The sun rises on an organizing system, which will bring impactful weather to portions of the Gulf Coast as early as Friday night. (CIRA/RAMMB/NOAA)

Tropical storm warnings are up for much of Florida’s Panhandle and Big Bend area ahead of Tropical Storm Nestor, with heavy rains, strong winds and building surf already affecting the northeast Gulf Coast Friday evening. These impacts, along with storm surge flooding, will continue over the weekend across the eastern Gulf of Mexico, including central and North Florida, as the system continues to move northeast from a position 140 miles southwest of Panama City, Florida on Friday night.

The National Hurricane Center named the storm system shortly before 2 p.m. Friday, based on data from satellite, ship and ocean buoy data that revealed the storm has intensified and become better defined.

Maximum sustained winds in Nestor are at 60 mph, with higher gusts. The storm has an unconventional appearance for a tropical storm, with the heaviest showers and thunderstorms located to the east-northeast of the center.

A tropical storm warning is up from Navarre to Yankeetown, Fla. and Nestor is slated to make landfall Saturday morning in the Florida Panhandle.


Part of the reason the storm doesn’t look like a typical tropical cyclone is because of its proximity to an approaching cold front and jet stream disturbance to its west. That will enhance the system’s motion ahead of the front while imparting upon it some of the traits of an extratropical cyclone.

This will broaden the area at risk for high winds, heavy rain, tornado-producing thunderstorms, and in particular, storm surge flooding.

Storm surge flooding is a major threat with this storm

The greatest threat for wind and surge appear to be to the right or east of the center. This will focus the maximum concern for coastal surge inundation from Indian Pass to Clearwater Beach, Fla. A surge of several feet is expected, and considering how close to sea level much of Florida’s coastline lies, this could be of significant concern to shoreline residents. “This is a life-threatening situation,” the Hurricane Center warned.


Notice that model simulations place the greatest risk of strong winds east of the system's center. (Weatherbell.com)

Apropos to surge, the National Hurricane Center warns that the exact rise in water levels depends largely on the timing of the surge relative to the tidal cycle.

The NHC storm surge guidance shows a potential inundation of three to five feet above normally dry ground from Indian Pass to Chassahowitzka, Fla., if the peak surge hits at high tide. Farther south, from Chassahowitzka to Clearwater Beach, Fla., a potential inundation of two to four feet above normally dry ground could occur, if the peak surge occurs at high tide.

And for Tampa Bay, a storm surge inundation of one to three feet is anticipated.

A past storm that had a similar appearance and struck the Florida Panhandle was Tropical Storm Josephine in 1996. That storm brought a 5 to 7 foot storm surge to the west coast of Florida.

Tropical Storm Nestor has a broad wind field, meaning some of the strong winds associated with the system may extend well outward from the center. In fact, tropical storm force winds already are occurring “up to 175 miles mainly to the northeast and east of the center.” That’s why it’s imperative to plan accordingly for the impacts of this storm system.


Heavy rainfall will continue farther inland in the Southeast where the system moves over the weekend. (Weatherbell.com)

Heavy rainfall may be in the offing as well, particularly in Florida’s Big Bend region as well as Georgia and South Carolina. A broad swath of rainfall amounting to 2 to 5 inches, with localized higher amounts, is possible in these areas.

Freshwater flooding is not expected to be a widespread concern, though, as recent drought conditions in the Southeast means the dry soils can soak up more rainwater like a sponge. The heavy rains will spread northeastward into the Carolinas on Saturday into Sunday, and may affect southern portions of the Mid-Atlantic region as well.

Damaging winds are also possible from eastern Louisiana to Tampa, though eastern areas may be favored.

There is also a chance of some severe weather, including tornadoes, with any squall lines that develop and cross over the Florida Peninsula from the gulf. In addition, any bands of thunderstorm activity could exacerbate the storm surge threat, concentrating water rises along their leading edges, where gusty winds tend to be located.