Tropical system likely in Gulf of Mexico in coming days, could threaten Florida


Franklin has strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane in the Atlantic, as forecasters are monitoring another area of showers and thunderstorms in the Caribbean Sea that could develop into a tropical system as soon as Sunday.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center are watching the disturbed weather near Central America, which is expected to track north this weekend through the Caribbean Sea toward the Gulf of Mexico, where it could form the Atlantic Ocean’s tenth tropical system this year.

A tropical depression or named storm could develop late this weekend or early next week if the currently disorganized showers and thunderstorms consolidate into one swirling mass with a defined center.

Who should pay attention? Nothing has formed yet, so it’s too early to pinpoint an exact track. But anyone living in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Cuba and the northern Gulf and Florida coast should monitor the forecast in the coming days. The direction and strength of the upper-level steering winds around this system will dictate where it will move and how quickly.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Saturday declaring a state of emergency for 33 counties ahead of the potential inclement weather. “The Governor and the Florida Division of Emergency Management are taking timely precautions to ensure Florida’s communities, infrastructure and resources are prepared, including those communities that are still recovering following Hurricane Ian,” reads a news release announcing the executive order.

How soon could it form? A tropical depression is likely to form within the next day or two.

When could it affect the US? If a tropical system does develop, it could affect the US as soon as Monday if it is pulled northward by strong steering winds. Weaker steering winds would lead to a slower track and impact midweek.

How strong could it get? It’s still too soon to tell how strong this system could get – or how fast it could strengthen. But it will be tracking through the warmest waters in the entire Atlantic basin – a vast source of energy for a developing storm. Exceptionally warm water can provide storms the fuel needed to strengthen and sometimes undergo rapid intensification.

Sea surface temperatures are record warm in the Gulf of Mexico and extremely high across the northwestern Caribbean Sea. Water temperatures need to be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit to sustain tropical development, and portions of the Caribbean and Gulf are well above that threshold.

A hurdle to development: Warm water isn’t the only factor at play. This potential tropical system would also need upper-level winds to cooperate. High wind shear – the wind’s change in direction or speed with altitude – can tear a developing storm apart.

How much wind shear this potential system faces is a critical factor in its formation and final strength. One forecast model shows more wind shear, limiting its development. Another shows less wind shear, allowing the system to develop.

Either way, wind shear may decrease for a time early next week across the far northern Caribbean and eastern Gulf of Mexico, allowing any system that forms to hold together.

Meanwhile, out in the central Atlantic, what was Tropical Storm Franklin strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour, according to a Saturday morning update from the National Hurricane Center. This was confirmed via aircraft reconnaissance by the NOAA and Air Force Hurricane Hunters.

Hurricane Franklin is currently located 620 miles south of Bermuda and is moving relatively slowly at 7 miles per hour towards the north-northwest.

“Steady strengthening is forecast, and Franklin could become a major hurricane early next week,” said the center in its update. A major hurricane is defined as Category 3 or higher with winds above 111 mph.

“Swells generated by Franklin are expected to begin affecting Bermuda by Sunday night,” the hurricane center said, noting that, “these swells are also likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions late this weekend into early next week along portions of the East Coast of the United States.”

Small variations in Franklin’s track through the weekend will determine exactly how close it gets to Bermuda when it make its closest pass Monday and Monday night.

Franklin’s winds and rainfall will extend beyond its center. Tropical-storm-force wind gusts are possible across Bermuda early next week as Franklin makes its closest approach. A few showers and thunderstorms are also possible across Bermuda as Franklin passes.

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