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Tropical disturbance in Atlantic likely to intensify, but may avoid U.S.

Visible satellite image of the disturbance in the tropical Atlantic that is likely to develop over the next five days. The area of thunderstorms is 350 miles east of the Lesser Antilles islands on Thursday morning. (NOAA)

Despite its ragged appearance on satellite, an area of thunderstorms in the tropical Atlantic has become slightly more organized since Wednesday, and now has a 50 percent chance of developing into a tropical cyclone over the next 48 hours, and a 70 percent chance over the next five days, according to the National Hurricane Center.

In a shift from Wednesday, almost all of the models are in agreement on the possible track of this storm and do not steer it towards the U.S. Atlantic or Gulf coasts.

The disturbance has shifted north and CWG’s tropical weather expert Brian McNoldy and Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters note the shift is leading to a more northward track in the forecast models. Both the U.S. and European models forecast a path over Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, skirting through the Bahamas, and then a curve east out into the open Atlantic. Almost all of the other tropical storm models agree with that general path, as well.

Track forecasts from various tropical weather models for the disturbance in the North Atlantic. These models are run every six to 12 hours and often have large shifts in track between runs. (NCAR)

None of the models are forecasting a Gulf of Mexico hurricane as of Thursday morning.

However, it’s important to note that this storm has not actually formed yet, and it’s very difficult for any weather model to predict the path of a storm that doesn’t yet exist. While it’s generally a good thing that the models are coming to agreement on the track, history has shown that this can change once a storm intensifies. Residents of Florida and the Bahamas, in particular, should be monitoring the development and progress of this disturbance over the coming days.

Related: Hurricane hype is here to stay; Forecasters must adapt

Infrared satellite image of North American and the Atlantic. The disturbance in question (Invest 96L) is circled in white. (NOAA modified by CWG)

The tropical weather models also agree on a gradual intensification of the storm over the next few days. Sea surface temperature is running slightly above average along the disturbance’s potential track — 84 to 86 degrees around the Bahamas, and 86 to 88 degrees in the Gulf of Mexico — more than adequate to support a hurricane. However, as of this morning, none of the models are forecasting this disturbance to become a strong hurricane.

The storm will have quite a few environmental hurdles to jump, especially if it tracks over Puerto Rico and the mountainous island of Hispaniola. In addition, the disturbance is currently located in an area of moderate wind shear (10 to 20 knots), with the potential for higher wind shear as it tracks northwest.  On its trek across the tropical Atlantic, this disturbance has avoided the dry, Saharan air that has plagued previous tropical waves this summer.

If this area does become more organized, it could become Tropical Depression Four, or possibly Tropical Storm Cristobal, depending on its intensity.

Angela Fritz is an atmospheric scientist and The Post's deputy weather editor.
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