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Here’s some real talk about that ‘tropical wave’ thing near Florida

99L is nowhere close to being a hurricane. (NOAA)

The tropical system known as “99L” is hanging out in the Caribbean, slowly drifting west and looking fairly pitiful. It’s one of the most disorganized, paltry things we’ve ever seen the tropics cough up that has attracted so much media attention.

But, to be fair, it is tracking toward South Florida and the Gulf of Mexico and needs to be watched carefully.

There’s a lot of misinformation flying around about this disturbance — so here’s some real talk.

A hurricane watch is not in effect

Florida residents may be “watching” this system very closely, but there’s no hurricane watch in effect. A hurricane watch is a very specific thing, and Floridians take it seriously. The National Weather Service issues it when hurricane conditions are possible. They make every effort to get the watch up 48 hours before the weather starts to deteriorate.

Of course this is different than a hurricane warning, which means hurricane conditions are actually occurring or they’re imminent.

This system has never even been close to a hurricane, which brings me to my next point.

The ‘tropical wave’ is a total mess

Over the past three days, the system has been deteriorating (in a good way for coastal residents). The environment around it has been really bad for strengthening, and it looks like a mess on satellite.

Our tropical weather expert Brian McNoldy is not impressed. “It has entered an area of strong vertical wind shear, and is very disorganized,” he wrote Friday morning. “The approximate center is north of eastern Cuba, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at a satellite image.”

Here’s the satellite loop. Can you pick out a tropical disturbance? We’re having a hard time, too.

There is no hurricane threat for South Florida

At one point earlier this week, this was a real possibility. Since then, the area of thunderstorms has tracked pretty far west, and we’ve seen no indication that it’s going to strengthen anytime soon.

The National Hurricane Center is giving it just a 20 percent chance of developing into something more significant within the next 48 hours. In fact, they’re so confident that this system isn’t a threat for South Florida that they’ve canceled the Hurricane Hunter mission that was scheduled for Friday afternoon.

The rain could be intense

Even though Florida is not going to see a hurricane develop over the next couple of days, they’ll get a lot of rain.

As much as three inches of rain is expected to fall in southeast Florida and around Miami through Monday morning. If we extend that forecast to a week, the National Weather Service is predicting as much as six inches. Florida is certainly accustomed to rain, but people should be aware of how much is going to fall. Some flooding seems likely.

Sunday looks like the day for heavy rain and gusty winds in southeast Florida as the system tracks west.

It does have the potential to strengthen in the gulf

The things that are preventing this system from becoming more organized — mainly the strong wind shear — are expected to fade over the next couple of days. So it could start to show signs of strengthening once it gets to the Gulf of Mexico, but we really don’t expect it develop into a hurricane by then.

McNoldy noted in his morning write-up that one of the models, the HWRF, is still clinging to the idea that this system will develop into a substantial hurricane once it hits the warmer water in the gulf. This is certainly a possibility, but it’s just one model. Other, similar models do absolutely nothing with it.

As you can tell, the range of possibilities is wide. There’s a lot of uncertainty. The National Hurricane Center says there’s a 60 percent chance of it developing into something — maybe a tropical storm, maybe a hurricane — within the next five days. We consider this a “moderate” chance — far from a sure thing.

There’s no reason to panic

If you live along the Gulf Coast, you should absolutely keep your eye on this system. Pay attention to your favorite, trusted local meteorologist over the next few days — they will have the best information available.

Should you be boarding up your windows and stockpiling bottled water? Probably not. At best, anyone who tells you this isn’t looking at what we’re looking at. At worst, they’re willfully deceiving you for their own benefit.

Mindful vigilance is best in this situation. Panic is not.