Hurricane Ike has slightly weekend to a category 3 hurricane this afternoon. Winds have dropped from 135 mph to 120 mph. This is still a very dangerous storm that will pose a threat to life for many.
Ike has recently given a direct hit to Turks and Caicos where it destroyed 80% of homes on the islands. The hurricane is now moving away from Turks and Caicos and the Southern Bahamas towards the North coast of Eastern Cuba.
The latest Air Force Reconnaissance Aircraft has indicated that Ike has slightly weakened. With its forecasted track to the East, it will continue to weaken as it makes landfall on Cuba. The question is how long will the center of the storm stay on land. The longer it stays on land, the more weakening we will see. However, if the center moves back over the water, we could see minimal weakening followed by restrengthening. This is because land has more friction than water. The mountains on Cuba will also play a role in "ripping apart" this storm.
Once Ike leaves Cuba it will likely restrengthen as it encounters the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The storm will have three to four days to reorganize before it makes landfall near Texas and Louisiana. The exact track of the storm depends on other atmospheric dynamics. A low pressure trough is building in to the Eastern United States with shortwaves riding through it. High pressure is located to the South of this trough. If these shortwaves dig far enough to the south they may pick up Ike and turn it to the northwest. If the high pressure system strenghtens and stays in place, it will keep Ike moving on a more Westerly path. It is possible for Ike to be a major hurricane as it makes landfall on the United States, and all who live in its projected path should take caution now. For more information on Ike, head to the National Hurricane Center.