An area of low pressure over the Bay of Campeche is likely to develop into a tropical or subtropical storm later Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center. Heavy rainfall, gusty winds and storm-surge flooding are possible along portions of the Gulf Coast by the weekend as the storm is expected to move in that direction.
Tropical storm warnings have been issued from the Mississippi-Alabama border to the Ochlockonee River in Florida’s Big Bend, as well as from Grand Isle, La., to the mouth of the Pearl River, where the land mass juts out into the storm’s projected path. A storm surge watch is also in effect from Indian Pass to Clearwater, Fla., where the National Hurricane Center is forecasting a potential surge of several feet.
Although the system hasn’t technically become a tropical storm, its circulation continues to consolidate and organize. However, the National Hurricane Center calls the setup “a complicated weather situation,” as it is uncertain whether the system — likely to be named Nestor — will be designated a tropical or a subtropical storm. The key wild card is the extent to which it interacts with an area of low pressure approaching from the west.
Regardless of the classification, the impacts will remain the same. The storm is likely to gradually strengthen during the next couple of days before making landfall this weekend, though it is not expected to exceed tropical storm intensity.
The weather system to the west will help nudge the storm northeast, and the most likely location for landfall appears to be in the Florida Panhandle. That would place the greatest storm surge threat to the east of the center, along Florida’s west coast and parts of the Panhandle, while heavy rainfall and strong winds will be more widespread.
Computer models are consistent in the storm closing in on landfall sometime Saturday, with impacts being felt as early as Friday evening in places like Mobile, Ala., and Panama City, Fla.
This system is “unlikely … [to] develop into a classic tropical cyclone,” the National Hurricane Center wrote Thursday morning, which is an indication that the storm is unlikely to have its most significant impacts confined to a small area near the center.
A widespread area of at least two to four inches of rain, with localized higher amounts, might be in the offing in the Florida Panhandle and east of the Tensaw River/Mobile Bay, with heavy rain then spreading inland across the Southeast and toward the Mid-Atlantic later this weekend. An inland flooding threat exists for Georgia and portions of the Carolinas, for example.
The strongest winds, however, will probably be found east of the center — perhaps a good deal east — and will coincide with the greatest storm surge risk as well.
Like many landfalling tropical systems, this one has a chance of producing tornadoes as well, with the threat of severe thunderstorms stretching across much of central and northern Florida and into parts of Georgia and South Carolina.
The same storm’s moisture may enhance heavy rainfall and trigger flash-flood concerns in southern Georgia and the Carolinas from Sunday into Monday before a cold front sweeps its remnants out to sea.