Miami-Dade County

Messy storm system near Hispaniola likely to become tropical storm

A sloppy storm marching across the Atlantic packing heavy rain will likely become a tropical depression or tropical storm over the weekend and could trigger dangerous flooding in Haiti, National Hurricane Center forecasters said Friday.

A Hurricane Hunter reconnaissance plane sent to investigate Friday found the storm still struggling to form, but detected some tropical storm-force winds in excess of 39 mph. The system has been cruising quickly west. Most models turn it north and show it moving away from the U.S. coast Sunday or Monday, but the storm’s messy organization is making it tricky for forecasters to predict a path.

As it sweeps by mountains in Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, hurricane center forecasters expect the storm to stay unorganized. But once past the island, they warned the storm could quickly strengthen Saturday as it slows and fuels up on warm Bahamian waters.

They also warned Haiti and Puerto Rico to be on alert for perilous flooding.

Even after it passes, Haiti could get a double soaking from the storm’s back half. With its denuded mountains, the impoverished country is particularly susceptible to deadly mudslides and flooding triggered by rain. Spring and summer rains have also left the country saturated. In 2012, relentless rain from Isaac and Sandy killed nearly 100 people and caused widespread damage to homes and crops when the hurricanes sideswiped the island.

“I wouldn’t rule out a heavy rainfall threat for a few more days,” said hurricane center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. “They’re not out of the woods.”

If the storm does in fact turn north and dodge the U.S., it may still churn up dangerous coastal rip currents, he said.

“As to how much and how long remains to be seen,” Feltgen said.

Earlier this month, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters updated their seasonal outlook, predicting the season would fall well below average numbers.

They predicted just five to 10 storms over the rest of the season, which runs through November. Counting Arthur and Bertha — two hurricanes that formed early in July and August — only one to four more hurricanes are forecast. The prediction for the number of major storms with winds topping 110 mph stands at up to two.

If the system strengthens to a tropical storm, it would be named Cristobal, the third named storm of the season.