Well, that was quick: the National Hurricane Center has upgraded Tropical Depression Seven to a 60 mph tropical storm, T.S. Gustav, as of 2:00 PM EDT.
Dr. Jeff Masters explains:
At 1:33 pm EDT, an Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft measured a surface pressure of 996 mb . . . at the center of a closed circulation. Top winds at the aircraft’s flight level of 2200 feet were hurricane force, 74 mph. Top winds measured at the surface by the SFMR instrument were 60 mph, on the southeast side of the storm. Large regions of winds in excess of tropical storm force (39 mph) were measured on both the northwest and southeast sides of the storm.
Keep in mind, this thing was still an “Invest” — not even a T.D. — less than four hours ago. Now it’s just 14 mph away from hurricane strength. I daresay Gustav is bucking this season’s trend, of storms taking forever to get their act together.
Hurricane warnings are up for Hispaniola. Gustav is now expected to be a hurricane within 24 hours, prior to landfall in Haiti.
After that, everything depends on the storm’s track. As I mentioned earlier, the computer models are split. If Gustav tracks over mountainous land, it will struggle. If, on the other hand, it does as some models project, and stays largely over open water — say, crossing the explosively warm waters between Jamaica and Cuba — it could get much stronger than the currently forecasted peak of 80 mph.