As of 2 p.m. Saturday, Hurricane Ike is just north of Hati, and just east of the southern Bahamas. Ike has top winds of 115 mph, with strong gusts to near Category 4 strength. Ike continues to move west-southwest, threatening the southern Bahamas and Cuba during the next few days.
Ike is under the influence of strong winds high up. These winds, called wind shear, is keeping Ike from gaining intensity. In order to imagine wind shear, think of putting a sock in your car's tailpipe. Obviously, you will choke and kill the engine. And a hurricane is that, an engine. If the wind shear is stronger, that would be like putting a thicker sock in the tailpipe. Right now, the wind shear is strong, but the engine is strong enough to blast through the sock; so, its effects on Ike are toned down some. The wind shear will weaken considerably as Ike moves towards Cuba in the coming days.
Right now, it looks like Ike will miss a direct hit on Florida. Perhaps even the Florida Keys will be spared. Northern Cuba, however, looks like it will bear the brunt of Ike. There are a lot of hills in Cuba. Ike will be largely impacted by these hills, causing it to weaken quite a bit. Then, Ike is expected to turn to the northwest, right into the Gulf of Mexico, that's the last place we want to see another hurricane.
Wind shear will be marginal by the time Ike enters the gulf. The ocean waters have recovered since Hurricane Gustav. As Ike moves northwest, it will likely gain strength. Ike could rapidly intensify. And, without the shear, we could see Ike strengthen more than Gustav--which was largely impacted by wind shear.
Ike is expected to be a major hurricane as it near New Orleans by Thursday and Friday of next week. There is still much uncertainty to its exact path, but it does look like another major storm will hit somewhere along the gulf coast later next week.