The tropical Atlantic Ocean is buzzing with activity and one disturbance, in particular, could strengthen and strike Florida in six to eight days. It could even become a hurricane.
The disturbance, known as 99L, is several hundred miles east of the Leeward Islands and headed westward. It is forecast to reach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in the next one to two days where it is likely to unleash heavy rain and strong winds.
The main concern is what happens to it after it passes the islands and continues to the west and northwest. It will then enter very warm waters and atmospheric conditions more favorable for strengthening.
Many forecast models now project this disturbance will head toward the east coast of Florida or just a bit to the north.
“Models are starting to agree more on a tropical cyclone near south-to-central Florida in the Sunday to Tuesday time frame,” says Brian McNoldy, Capital Weather Gang’s tropical weather expert.
But it’s not at all clear how strong it will become. Some models forecast the disturbance may strengthen little while others project it will become a hurricane, even a strong one.
For example, the European model predicts the disturbance will rapidly develop near the northern Bahamas this weekend, and make landfall in south Florida Sunday night. The GFS model, on the other hand, does not develop the system.
So it is not a sure thing a significant storm will strike the coast, but the possibility of a disruptive event looms.
“This storm has the potential to be a dangerous one for the Bahamas and the Southeast United States,” writes Jeff Masters, meteorologist at Weather Underground, noting near-record warm water temperatures of 84-86 degrees around the Bahamas. “[W]e have the potential for 99L — which has a large circulation — to rapidly intensify into a large major hurricane.”
John Morales, chief meteorologist from the NBC affiliate, countered it’s too soon to sound alarms. “At this formative stage nobody knows what 99L will do,” he tweeted.
This morning, the National Hurricane Center sent a plane into the disturbance and described it as “disorganized” and having “a poorly defined circulation”. It says the disturbance has just a 40 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression or named tropical storm in the next 48 hours but a 60 percent chance within five days. Masters thinks that’s conservative: “I think the five-day odds should be higher, at 70 percent.”
Should the disturbance strengthen into a hurricane and strike Florida, it would end a record 10-year hurricane drought in the Sunshine state.
“It’s not going to be Andrew and it might be nothing, but it also could be something more than nothing, and potentially something annoying,” wrote Bryan Norcross, a hurricane specialist with the Weather Channel.
Residents of both Florida and the Southeast U.S. should closely monitor this system.
Elsewhere in the tropics …
* Tropical Storm Gaston has formed in the eastern Atlantic and is forecast to intensify into a hurricane in the next day. It has peak winds of 65 mph, but is almost certain to track over the open waters of the Atlantic and avoid land.
* Fiona, 430 miles south of Bermuda, has been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone and is forecast to further weaken
(This story has been updated.)