Forecasters warn Florida Panhandle to keep watch for tropical storm

National Hurricane Center

Tropical storm watches or warnings could be issued as early as Monday for parts of the Florida Panhandle as a sprawling messy storm makes it way north.

In their 2 p.m. advisory, National Hurricane Center forecasters said the storm rolling across the Gulf of Mexico and generating heavy rain across Florida and the Keys is expected to strengthen over the next two days. A hurricane hunter plane is scheduled to investigate the storm later today.

A second smaller system racing across the Atlantic is also likely to be a tropical storm when it reaches the Windward Islands and Venezuela Monday night or early Tuesday. At 2 p.m., the system was located about 240 miles east, southeast of Trinidad and moving at about 25 mph with sustained winds of 40 mph. A hurricane hunter plane is also investigating that system to determine whether winds have reached tropical storm force.

Forecasters expect the Atlantic storm to continue strengthening through the day but say it will likely weaken if it interacts with land over Venezuela. The system is also expected to encounter inhospitable conditions in the Central Caribbean and likely fizzle.

Storm warnings have been issued for Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada and the cost of Venezuela from Pedernales to Cumana. A tropical storm watch is in effect for Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba.

While the Gulf storm remains disorganized, forecasters say it will likely become better formed over the next two days and warned residents in the Florida Panhandle and Texas coast to be prepared for possible advisories.

The storm’s heavy rains are expected to continue over parts of the Florida mainland and Keys, western Cuba and Cayman Islands and over the next two days spread to the coast along the U.S. Gulf coast, forecasters say.

National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration forecasters said the Atlantic Ocean's 2017 hurricane season will likely be above normal, with 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine hurricanes and two to four major storms.

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