A system rolling north from the southwestern Gulf of Mexico has a better chance of strengthening to a tropical depression or storm in the coming days, National Hurricane Center forecasters said Tuesday.
In a 7:15 p.m. advisory, forecasters put the odds at 50 percent over the next five days. Over the next two days, dry air and strong winds in the upper atmosphere should prevent the storm from becoming better organized, they said.
But as it moves slowly north over the central Gulf and encounters a low pressure system, it could gradually churn into a tropical system just days before the official start of the hurricane season June 1, and just in time for the Memorial Day weekend.
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Even if no tropical system forms, widespread rain is likely, forecasters said, continuing soggy conditions that have pushed rainfall totals across South Florida well above average for May.
That's up dramatically from just a month ago, when drought conditions gripped much of South Florida with rainfall about 20 percent below average.
In a Facebook post, meteorologist Bryan Norcross said the system looks very similar to another Gulf storm that briefly threatened to become a cyclone last week, with heavy moisture being pulled from the south. How much rain Florida gets hit with depends on where the wet side of the system sets up, he said.
"Think of the structure of the system as a comma," he said. "The Florida peninsula will be affected by the feed of moisture along the tail of [the] comma. Whether the core of the tail is right over Southwest Florida, the Gulf or the Bahamas is impossible to know."
Gov. Rick Scott also issued a statement, warning Gulf Coast residents to be ready for heavy rain and possible flooding this week. Scott also ordered the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to move high-water vehicles to the area in case of flooding.
"Although the storm currently has a relatively low chance of development into a tropical system, we must take it seriously," he said. "That's why it is critically important that all Floridians take this opportunity to get prepared and make a plan."
The system should continue moving slowly to the north at about 5 mph, Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters said, over waters just a couple of degrees warmer than what is typically needed to fuel a tropical system. Later in the week, the upper winds now keeping the storm in check are expected to depart as a seasonal flow that amplifies rain and thunderstorms arrives.