A weak but stubborn tropical wave rolled toward the lower Keys Sunday, dragging a wet blanket along with it that could bring rain to parts of South Florida -- possibly for several days.
The broad, messy system was packing gusty winds and showing signs of growing more organized early Sunday morning. At 8 a.m., the storm was off the north coast of central Cuba and forecasters said it could finally get its act together after it passes Key West and enters the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But for South Florida, thunderstorms and flooding remained the main concern, with the National Weather Service in Miami saying some areas could see accumulations of four to five inches.
The soggy conditions could persist into the early week, with the service actually upping its rain chances in Miami from 70 percent Sunday to 80 percent Monday and early Tuesday as the system pulls in moisture from the tropics.
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As it passes over the Keys Sunday, meteorologists say the islands may actually see winds weaker than Saturday’s, when gusts reached 40 mph at Duck Key.
“The more saturated the atmosphere, the less chance of winds outside” the center of the storm’s energy, said National Weather Service Key West senior meteorologist Alan Albanese. Over the course of the day, Albanese expected conditions to be typical for this time of year: off-and-on showers.
“This is not something out of the ordinary,” he said. “It’s the wet season.”
In Monroe County, there wasn’t much concern. Officials had trimmed trees in advance of the storm and were ready in case winds churned up debris, said county administrator RomanGastesi.
“We’re on alert in case it does blow some trees down, we’ll be able to clean the streets,” he said.
National Hurricane Center forecasters said the system, which has often looked ragged and on the verge of dissipating over the last few days, still has a chance of powering up in the Gulf. They slightly raised the odds in an 8 p.m. forecast, giving the system a 40 percent chance of becoming a tropical storm in two days and a 60 percent chance in five days. With computer models all over the map, Florida and other Gulf Coast states may have to continue monitoring it well into the coming week. Some turn a stronger system back toward the Tampa and Big Bend area of Florida but forecasters stress that the future path and development remain highly uncertain.
In his blog for Weather Underground, meteorologist Steve Gregory said the storm’s track depends on how strong it gets as it spins over warm water. If it gains power, the storm will likely curve to the east and head toward the Big Bend, which could bring heavy rain north of Lake Okeechobee and raise lake levels. Over the winter and spring, water managers wrestled with high water and lake releases that coated the east coast with toxic algae. A weaker storm would continue to the northwest, Gregory said.
From Naples, Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement he was monitoring the storm and had spoken to emergency managers.
“We know that heavy rainfall is expected to begin across South Florida during the early hours tomorrow morning and may last for the next several days. There is also a potential for heavy rain to extend to the Gulf Coast,” he said. “In Florida, we know that weather can change quickly and with little warning, and families and businesses must make sure they already have a plan in place.”
Fearful that the storm could “spin up quickly,” Dry Tortugas National Park was expected to close at 6 p.m. Saturday in advance of the storm and remain closed until it passes, park officials said. Boats will still be allowed to cross park waters and seek shelter in Garden Key and Bird Key harbors, but no services or emergency responses will be available.
Everglades National Park will remain open, but the Flamingo campground will close Saturday night and no back country camping will be allowed Saturday or Sunday. Park officials also urged visitors to check weather reports before heading to the park since the storm could trigger local flooding.
And, as if on cue with the season moving into its peak, two other disturbances popped up Friday.
One, a disturbance located 140 miles southwest of Bermuda at 2 p.m, was pushing west at about 10 mph toward the coast of the Carolinas. Winds topped 35 mph. With dry air nearby, any strengthening would be slow. Forecasters also say strong wind shear along the storm’s future track will likely keep it from becoming a tropical storm. They gave the system a 30 percent chance of forming over the next two days.
In the northern Gulf of Mexico, about 100 miles south of Louisiana, another system could drench the coast from Louisiana to Texas with heavy rain. It is not expected to become a tropical storm.
About 740 miles east of Bermuda, Tropical Storm Gaston continued to spin, with tropical storm force winds extending about 150 miles out at 11 a.m. Saturday. Gaston will likely become a hurricane again Sunday, but pose no threat to the U.S. coast.
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