Tropical Storm Ernesto in the Florida Keys
August 29th - 30th, 2006
by Martin Kucera
(c) 2006 - FloridaLightning.com
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 Tropical storm Ernesto never made it to a hurricane
category before making a landfall in the Upper Keys and
south Florida just before midnight on August 29th, 2006.
For the most part of the day this storm simply looked
weak and poorly organized. There was a little hope for
strengthening earlier during the day but the maximum
estimated sustained winds were presented as 45mph for
the most of Ernesto's track over the Straits of Florida and
later the Keys.
In reality that number seems quite high. This was a
heavy rain event with all the characteristics of a tropical
system. The winds were minimal for the most of the day
and during the landfall. I observed traffic signs flopping
heavily in some stronger winds as well as the eerie
howling of power lines for short periods of time.
The rain amounts across south Florida are going to be
great I can imagine. It has been raining for the last 12
hours and the back side of the storm is coming through
right now without any signs of letting up the heavy
rain. In fact the back side of Ernesto seems a bit more
impressive than the earlier part when it comes to wind.
The first outer band of tropical storm
Ernesto is coming ashore in Islamorada, FL
Heavy rain and gusty winds would soon
follow the moderate squall of T.S. Ernesto.
I could not be any more lucky when it came to intercepting this tropical system as it was right on
target for the Upper Keys so I concentrated mainly on finding the heaviest parts of the storm.
Early on I picked my vantage points to be able to have access to both bay side as well as the ocean
side of the Keys. There is always a good chance for violent waterspouts and lightning activity
with tropical systems. Many times you also get more lightning thus you really don't want to
concentrate on the force of the winds as a main factor when planning an intercept of a tropical
storm. At least it is how I see and plan things. The first outer bands moved through around noon
and the radar images already looked quite poor at this point. Nevertheless I did not want to just
abort the chase - the storm was in the neighborhood. I was able to notice some good looking
updrafts early on but they were way in the distance over the Everglades and later approached Key
West and weakened. This is a good time to point out that the outer bands most probably brought
the most intense weather. The Bay waters were quite rough and stirred up brown and rain blew
almost horizontally for a while. There were couple times I  experienced a near whiteout while the
worst of the weather was coming through. The only great looking thing during the entire landfall
was an embedded strong thunderstorm exhibiting violent rotation. This was the cell that moved
over the Florida Bay earlier and produced a short lived violent looking waterspout. By the time it
really intensified over the ocean south of the island chain it was already more than 30 miles off
shore and covered up by sheets of rain. Amazing how fast the waterspout actually moved.
Sad to say, the waterspout was the highlight of the day.
I have not been disappointed by this system, however.
Depending on what you are looking for when it comes to
monitoring or actively participating in tropical systems
interception, you might like certain scenarios better than
other ones. Lately, some people seem to feel that unless it
is a major hurricane it is not worth their time. I guess if
you are passionate about storms, don't chase only for
money and don't need to travel thousands of miles, we all
should take whatever the nature has to offer (especially in
2006 but I am not going to get into that).  
Heavy sheets of rain are rapidly engulfing
waters of Florida Bay just north of the
island chain in Islamorada, FL.
Tropical storms  or even depressions  can also be quite interesting as well.  Aside from insane
amounts of lightning during hurricane Charley approaching Key West, FL in 2004 I will never
forget a tropical depression back in 2003 when it comes to electrical activity and tropical systems.
During this extremely weak looking and disorganized depression that moved south of the Keys
I was able to enjoy and photograph lightning since the early evening till morning hours
when a sunrise put a lid on things. With Ernesto I observed no lightning but heard
thunder - early on.  
Conditions quickly deteriorating as another squall gets closer to the islands and the US 1.
When driving extra care needs to be taken while crossing numerous bridges in the Keys.
This is just about when the Keys experienced the worst of Ernesto. The winds were not a
problem at all but at times very heavy rains moved through. It all kind of reminded me of a
heavy summer thunderstorm. The photo above on the right is of the most potent squall that
came into clear view and produced a short lived but violent looking waterspout later on.
Same squall line as the one above only moments later and a couple miles closer. At this
time the rotation in this particular part (embedded cell) was quite obvious. My vehicle
weather monitoring system indicated shear velocity of 80mph at the time the first photo
was taken. Unfortunately it was impossible to get a closer look at this thing. It was literally
gone the next minute. So fast it moved off shore I was only able to get several minutes of a
decent video of this particular event. So much for another highlight of the day.
A couple of "scenic" tropical storm shots. Channel five bridge connects Islamorada and the
Long Key. Notice the original and much better looking bridge built by a railroad magnate
Henry Flagler in 1920's. The infamous Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 badly damaged the
original structure. Trains are no longer used to commute along the island chain.
(c) 2006 - FloridaLightning.com