Hurricane Danny strengthens but gradual weakening likely to occur in few days _lowres


Update, 10 p.m. Thursday: Hurricane Danny's maximum winds have increased to 80 miles per hour, and the storm is moving west-northwest at 10 miles per hour.

Danny is expected to continuing traveling west-northwest for the next couple days and to continue to strengthen until Sunday, at which time it should begin to weaken.

The storm is small in size with hurricane force winds only extending about 10 miles from the center and tropical storm force winds up to 60 miles from the center. Because the storm is compact, it can quickly become stronger or weaker, which makes forecasting difficult, the center said.

Dry air and increasing wind shear between Saturday and Sunday afternoons mean the storm is expected to get weaker as it nears the Leeward Island, dropping to a tropical storm strength when it strikes Puerto Rico around 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Still, there's a lot of time before Louisiana residents will know if Danny will pose a threat here.

“It’s really anyone’s guess right now,” said state climatologist Barry Keim said of the chances Danny enters the Gulf of Mexico.

There are so many variables to consider, from wind shear to dry air to steering currents. The storm could fizzle out, or head to Mexico or up the East Coast, as easily as enter the Gulf of Mexico.

“We certainly need another four or five days to get some insight of what it may or may not mean for the Gulf,” Keim said.

The National Hurricane Center issues a five-day tropical storm forecast, but any forecasts beyond that are “dicey,” Keim said.

El Niño years, such as the one currently in place, usually have high wind shear over tropical storm breeding grounds that can slow hurricane growth, but there are lull times. This storm, Keim said, is taking advantage of just such a lull in a specific place in the ocean that is allowing it to continue to strengthen.

Even though there’s almost a week of watching to do, now is a good time to prepare, he said.

“This is maybe serving as a wake-up call that even in a quiet year we need to have a plan in place,” Keim said.

It’s not too early to start gathering supplies, making sure there’s a working flashlight handy, and making other preparations.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.