The second tropical storm of the season is brewing for Florida this week. Tropical Depression Nine, which forecasters have been watching since it was just a cluster of thunderstorms near the Bahamas last week, is expected to make landfall on the Gulf side of Florida as a tropical storm on Thursday.
The models agree that the storm will turn northeast toward Florida’s Big Bend area over the next two days. The National Hurricane Center is predicting landfall somewhere between Panama City and Sarasota on Thursday, though the storm’s effects could extend beyond that.
The chances are low that this storm will strengthen into a strong hurricane before it reaches the coast, but it’s much harder to predict intensity than track. The most likely range is from a low-end tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane.
The biggest impacts from this storm will be heavy rain and coastal flooding. The heaviest rain will fall south of the storm’s center, where winds will be blowing toward the shoreline. Six to 10 inches of rain is possible along Florida’s coastal areas south of Tampa.
Even though this system is not expected to strengthen much, storm surge could still be a big problem for this part of the Gulf of Mexico. The shape of the sea floor off Florida’s west coast makes it very easy for even weak storms to generate destructive coastal flooding.
As of Monday afternoon, a tropical storm watch had not been issued for Florida but is expected some time Tuesday.
The eastern Gulf of Mexico is very warm, around 86 degrees, so there is plenty of fuel for this depression to take advantage of. That, combined with a favorable environment, will make it possible for Nine to intensify over the next few days. The National Hurricane Center expects the system to become a tropical storm by Tuesday morning.
Tropical Depression Nine is not the only storm churning in the Atlantic this week. Gaston is a strong hurricane in the central Atlantic, and Tropical Depression Eight is spinning toward North Carolina. The next names on the hurricane list are Hermine, Ian and Julia, and it’s possible that all three will be used in the coming week.
Hurricane Gaston is the strongest of the season by far. It was the third hurricane of 2016, the first to reach Category 2 status, and also the first to reach Category 3 status. On Monday morning, it is centered nearly 600 miles east of Bermuda and is a Category 3 hurricane with peak winds of 115 mph.
Gaston is forecast to slowly weaken over cooler waters this week, perhaps reaching the Azores islands by the weekend. Incidentally, Hurricane Alex also passed over the Azores back in mid-January, so the quarter-million residents there are probably not looking forward to another uninvited visitor.