Tropical Storm Erika Has Dissipated, But Even After Wreaking Havoc On The Carribbean, It's Not Quite Finished Yet

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on Saturday that tropical storm Erika had dissipated on its way to the western coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Although it was expected to hit the southern states with high surf, rip currents, and the potential for off-shoot storms, Erika first began weakening early Saturday morning, with meteorologists announcing that winds had dropped below 35 miles per hour, the tropical storm threshold, according to Reuters. For the time being, NOAA has reported that the storm has degenerated into a low-pressure trough, although experts say they're keeping an eye on it, just in case.

"There could be some eventual re-strengthening once it gets back over water over the eastern Gulf," explained NOAA meteorologist Tim Sedlock, in a comment to The Orlando Sentinel. "But that's a little ways out, so we'll have to watch it."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott first declared a state of emergency on Friday, after Erika hammered the Caribbean island of Dominica with high floodwaters and mudslides, killing at least 20. In a statement that same day, Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit took to the airwaves to address the crisis the storm had left in its wake, calling it a "national tragedy."

"The extent of the devastation is monumental," said Skerrit in a televised news conference. "We have, in essence, to rebuild Dominica."

Thankfully, the storm weakened as it moved on to neighboring Cuba, which is likely to be hit with some flooding and windy conditions — not exactly the worst thing, given the country's recent drought.

Residents in Florida, however, are still bracing for the worst. Erika could pick up steam again over the Gulf of Mexico and become a hurricane. "We always hear 'get ready because this is going to be the big one' but we haven't had a big one for the past few years," said Clermont resident Steven Abramowitz, 53, in a comment to The Sentinel, which had stopped by a local sandbagging area to conduct a few interviews.

"I think people get to the point where they don't bother preparing and I don't want to be one of those people," added Abramowitz. "It's better to be safe."

Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters explained that residents along the southern coast should be grateful for the tiny chains of Caribbean islands, which stood as the lone barrier between states like Florida and violent hurricane-force weather patterns that might otherwise wreak absolute havoc.

"[The island of Hispaniola, on which both Haiti and the Dominican Republic reside,] has saved us so many times in the past," said Masters, referencing the island's mountainous peaks, which soar above 10,000 feet, in an interview with Reuters on Saturday. "It's probably saved thousands of lives in South Florida over the years."

Florida officials have continued to urge residents to take the storm, however dissipated, seriously, advising communities to fill their cars with fuel and collect supplies such as bottled water and food in order to prepare for what would likely be a few days of heavy rainfall on already-saturated regions. Even though the worst of Erika had likely passed, they said, dangerous flooding was still a possibility.

"We anticipate that remnants of Erika could still pose a heavy rainfall threat to parts of the county," said Lake County emergency management division manager Thomas Carpenter in a statement on Saturday. "The next 24 to 48 hours will be critical as low-lying areas who have already been receiving significant rainfall brace for the additional rain."

Images: NOAA (2)