Squally weather continued lashing parts of the Florida Panhandle and Gulf Coast Tuesday as Tropical Storm Gordon headed toward the Mississippi coast, where it’s due to make landfall tonight or early Wednesday.
In a 5 p.m. advisory, National Hurricane Center forecasters said winds in the unexpected Labor Day storm had increased to 70 mph. With an estimated six hours before landfall, that leaves time for the system to strengthen to a Cat 1 hurricane, forecasters said, sending tropical storm force winds along the western tip of the Panhandle.
Once it comes ashore, Gordon is expected to quickly weaken and slow down. But the decrease in speed means the storm will likely linger and spread heavy rainm with four to eight inches forecast from the Panhandle to Louisiana and southern Arkansas.
Tuesday evening, Gordon was located about 95 miles southeast east of Biloxi, Miss., moving northwest at 15 mph. Tropical storm force winds extend 80 miles from Gordon’s center.
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As it near the coast, Gordon is also expected to spread a storm surge between two and five feet, with Alabama and Mississippi getting the highest surge.
Throughout the weekend, Gordon defied forecasts by strengthening more rapidly than expected. Saturday morning, forecasters predicted the system would not form until it passed over Florida and entered the Gulf. By Saturday evening, however, it had blossomed into a depression and by Sunday morning intensified to a Tropical Storm about 10 miles west of Key Largo.
“Gladly watching Gordon depart Florida,” forecaster Eric Blake tweeted late Monday. “Not too often you see a TS spin up that close to land on radar, basically unexpected.”
The storm dumped heavy rain through must of the day, drenching parts of South Florida with up to five inches. The National Weather Service’s Miami office ended a flood watch at midnight, but continued to warn Tuesday morning that a high risk of rip currents remained along the east coast, from Miami to Jupiter.
Meanwhile Florence, located more than 1,300 miles east of the Leeward Island, strengthened more than expected after becoming the season’s third hurricane of the season. Sustained winds reached 85 mph as the hurricane moved northwest at 12 mph. The compact storm, with winds extending just 15 miles from the center, is expected to begin weakening Wednesday and continue to fizzle through Friday before regaining intensity later in the weekend.
A third system, a tropical wave just east of the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa, is also teeing up and should become a tropical depression by the end of the week or over the weekend. Tuesday evening gave the system an 80 percent chance of forming over five days as it moves west.