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Disorganized Fred heads into the Gulf of Mexico, and Grace could follow a similar path toward the U.S.

Fred is targeting the northern Gulf Coast; Grace nears the Caribbean islands.

Rainfall forecast for Fred. The rainfall axis has shifted west in recent days. (
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Not one but two tropical systems — Fred and Grace — could drench Florida and the southeastern United States with appreciable rainfall in the coming days. This comes during a sudden awakening of the tropical Atlantic that could foreshadow even more activity as the season heads toward its average peak.

Indeed, signs point to this being just the beginning of an active end to August and start of September. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently increased its forecast of named storms, including three to five major Atlantic hurricanes.

Fred, recently downgraded to a tropical wave with sustained winds of 35 mph, continues to struggle after its encounter with the mountains of Hispaniola and its journey over parts of Cuba. Nonetheless, the system could regenerate into a tropical storm once again and lash Florida and the Gulf Coast with very heavy rainfall.

Atlantic hurricane season is about to ramp up dramatically, as NOAA boosts forecast

A second system, Tropical Storm Grace, developed 800 miles east of the Leeward Islands on Friday night, and it is set to take a path similar to that of its predecessor. There’s opportunity for Grace to develop further in the days ahead, but its intensification will ultimately hinge on any potential interactions with land masses.

One thing in particular to watch with Grace is the potential for rainfall to pose a threat to Haiti, a nation now reeling from a devastating magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck west of Port-au-Prince on Saturday morning. The high-end quake’s’ epicenter was farther away from the capital city than that of the 2010 earthquake, but it may have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and thousands of fatalities, according to preliminary disaster modeling from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Tracking Fred as it heads toward the United States

Tropical storm warnings are up in the Florida Keys ahead of Fred and in the northern Leeward Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico ahead of Grace.

On Saturday morning, Fred was a shredded shell of its former self, centered north of Havana, though the bulk of its thunderstorm activity was blossoming south of Cuba. The lopsided, asymmetric storm probably didn’t meet the usual definition of a tropical cyclone, and the 35 mph maximum wind estimate advertised by the National Hurricane Center may be a bit generous.

Still, the potential exists for a new center to form within the messy tropical swirl, allowing a narrow window of gradual redevelopment in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tropical storm conditions are likely later Saturday in the Florida Keys, and could materialize Monday in the Florida Panhandle or coastal Alabama. The Hurricane Center is considering hoisting tropical storm watches in those areas.

Heavy rainfall will be the main impact associated with Fred. While breezy winds with gusts over 30 mph may lap at the west coast of Florida late Saturday into Sunday, originally expected impacts in South Florida have all but evaporated due to the westward shift in Fred’s expected track.

It’s not out of the question that some parts of the Gulf Coast near where Fred, then perhaps a low-end or marginal tropical storm, makes landfall could receive double-digit rainfall totals. A general 3 to 7 inches is likely near where it moves ashore, with isolated higher totals. A strip of heavy rain is likely in Georgia and in the lee of the Appalachians during Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, possibly eventually into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, as Fred’s tropical remnants move northward.

Next up: Grace

Meanwhile, we’re also keeping tabs on another system that bears watching. Grace, officially designated a tropical storm early Saturday morning, “could lead to flash and urban flooding,” along with mudslides, in Puerto Rico, as well as in the Leeward and Virgin islands. Winds could arrive on Sunday morning and gust well into tropical storm force in some locales, but, as Grace is a compact storm, any winds will be felt over a relatively narrow track.

Instead, Puerto Rico and the northern Leeward Islands are preparing for 3 to 6 inches of heavy rainfall, coming just days after a healthy dose of rain from Tropical Storm Fred.

By late Monday into Tuesday, Grace probably will have strengthened some, but could begin brushing against or moving over Hispaniola. That will likely induce weakening, but, as Fred has demonstrated, subtleties in the storm’s track and motion will have an enormous bearing on strength. That’s why intensity remains a wild card in the forecast.

Regardless of where exactly Grace ends up, there is a signal for another round of heavy rainfall in Hispaniola, with 3 to 12 inches possible depending on how close of a pass Grace makes. That could deluge Haiti, an impoverished and deforested nation that experienced a catastrophic earthquake on Saturday morning, as rescue and recovery efforts continue. The efforts are likely to be hampered by mudslides, common in the country due to sodden topsoils made unstable by vegetation removal and the effects of extreme rainfall.

Around Wednesday, Grace will probably be approaching the Florida Straits, and could still be a tropical storm. If it avoids land altogether, a storm closer to hurricane strength isn’t out of the question. Greater confidence on track and impacts will be ironed out in the coming days.

A brief look further ahead

A series of synergetic large-scale atmospheric features should overlap to bring an active or hyperactive end to August in terms of Atlantic tropical activity.

Hurricane season ordinarily peaks around the first or second week in September, and there’s no reason to believe that this year will be any exception. Weather models already depict a conga line of tropical waves, the seeds for hurricanes, exiting off the African coastline south of Cape Verde in the coming weeks. Inevitably, one or more will become major, powerhouse storms.