To its west, Tropical Depression 14 is gathering strength in the Caribbean and may potentially drift into the gulf on Sunday or Monday. Tropical storm warnings have been posted for portions of Honduras and Nicaragua.
Another tropical disturbance emerging off the coast of Africa is still getting its act together and could develop into a named system.
The parade of storms heralds what is anticipated to be three or four weeks of enhanced storm activity in the Atlantic, thanks to the overlap of several large-scale drivers of tropical weather that favor storm development.
Tropical Depression 13 is already on the brink of becoming a tropical storm, while it’s anticipated that Tropical Depression 14 will strengthen, as well. It’s a race to see which will be named first and become Laura.
Tropical Depression 13 — aimed at Florida and Gulf of Mexico
As of Thursday afternoon, Tropical Depression 13 had the look of a storm system that will become problematic. The system was a little more than 600 miles east-southeast of the northern Leeward Islands, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph. It was moving to the west-northwest. Based on current forecasts, it will probably become Tropical Storm Laura Friday.
On satellite imagery, Tropical Depression 13 exhibits evidence of healthy inflow and outflow, or the counterclockwise inward spiral of warm, humid air at the surface that exits aloft in a clockwise flow radially outward. The outflow is visible in bands of thin, wispy cirrus clouds that pinwheel outward from the center.
A satellite scatterometer pass early Thursday indicated that the system was attempting to form a surface low-pressure center — though it remained somewhat elongated, like a strip or long ellipsis instead of one pure rotational core. A scatterometer uses pulses of energy to reveal near-surface winds based on the motion of ocean waves.
The strongest winds, estimated at around 35 mph, appeared to be well north of the center. To intensify, the center will need to become better defined, with stronger winds around it. Often, that process can take place if the low-level spin relocates beneath a towering thunderstorm updraft and is vertically stretched and enhanced.
The storm’s projected track is concerning for Florida. It is forecast to track west-northwestward, potentially bringing tropical storm conditions to the northern Leeward Islands on Friday night. By early Saturday, the storm system may be intensifying as it passes to the north of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Then uncertainty grows as the system, shunted south by strong high pressure parked over Bermuda, moves to the west-northwest through the Bahamas and possibly near the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Florida. Its intensity will depend heavily on terrain interaction, among other factors that are hard to forecast. It could very well become a hurricane, as several computer models have been showing.
By early next week, the storm system may enter the Gulf of Mexico, where new problems would arise.
Tropical Depression 14 — aimed at western Gulf of Mexico
In the Caribbean, Tropical Depression 14 was blistering with shower and thunderstorm activity Thursday. The system was about 150 hundred miles east-northeast of Honduras and Nicaragua, and it could affect that nation, as well as Belize, coastal Guatemala and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula with heavy rainfall in the days ahead.
On Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center declared it a “depression,” a step before naming it.
Eventually, the storm system may emerge over the central or western Gulf of Mexico by late Saturday or early Sunday. But to get there, it has to cross or skirt by the Yucatán Peninsula, which could halt the system’s intensification or cause weakening.
However, it’s late August, and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are anomalously warm. Regardless of what models say, meteorological gut instinct says this could be one to watch for residents of the Gulf Coast. This is especially true from Texas to Alabama.
There is a possibility that both storms could end up in the gulf early next week, during the Monday-to-Tuesday time frame. If they overlap as hurricanes, that would accomplish a feat that has never previously happened in the satellite era.
Another system to watch off Africa’s coast
As if two soon-to-be-named storms weren’t enough, a third system that recently exited the coast of Senegal in Africa is slated to develop soon. Right now, the National Hurricane Center estimates only a 40 percent chance of that happening in the days ahead, but those odds could rise.
This storm is likely to curve northward while intensifying before it reaches land.
Flurry of tropical systems continues historically busy hurricane season
The 2020 hurricane season has already been one to remember, with a typical year’s worth of tropical cyclones forming before the traditional halfway point in the season. While none have reached the major-hurricane status of Category 3 or higher, the United States has already sustained two Category 1 hurricane landfalls.
The season has featured the earliest C, E, F, G, H, I and J storms on record.
The bottom line
If you live on the Gulf of Mexico or in Florida, now is the time to ensure your preparedness plans are up to date and you are ready for whatever may come your way. There is an increasing probability that one or more named storms may affect Gulf Coast or Florida residents in the next 10 days.
Unusually warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the tropical Atlantic Ocean increase the odds of more-intense and wetter tropical cyclones. These warm waters are due in part to climate change, which studies show also bolsters the probability that a storm will undergo rapid intensification. In addition, climate change worsens the impacts of landfalling storms by raising sea levels.
Make sure you stay up to date with the latest tropical forecasts and review your hurricane readiness plan today.