Hurricane

System in Gulf of Mexico likely to strengthen, dump heavy rain on Florida

Forecasters say a system in the western Caribbean has a 60 percent chance of strengthening to a tropical cyclone over the next five days. The storm could raise the risk of flooding or beach erosion from heavy winds like winds kicked up by Tropical Storm Debby, pictured here, on Fort Walton Beach in 2012.
Forecasters say a system in the western Caribbean has a 60 percent chance of strengthening to a tropical cyclone over the next five days. The storm could raise the risk of flooding or beach erosion from heavy winds like winds kicked up by Tropical Storm Debby, pictured here, on Fort Walton Beach in 2012. AP

A system brewing in the western Caribbean has an 80 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression or storm in the next five days and will likely dump heavy rain on much of Florida.

Just three days into the 2016 season, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said Friday that the system is expected to power up as it moves east. Even if it doesn’t intensify into a tropical cyclone, forecasters are calling for heavy rain in Florida, where water managers continue to struggle with a record-breaking wet winter that soaked the south end of the state.

In addition to rainfall, the storm also raises the risk of flooding and isolated tornadoes between Monday and Wednesday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Barry Baxter. High winds could increase the chance of rip currents in the Atlantic and beach erosion on the west coast.

Where and how much rain the state gets depends largely on how strong the system becomes, Baxter said.

If it’s further east, it could shift things further south. Right now we just don’t know.

National Weather Service meteorologist Barry Baxter

“We’re all waiting to see where that low forms,” he said. “If it’s further east, it could shift things further south. Right now we just don’t know.”

Under the current forecast, the storm could drop between two and four inches of rain on South Florida and six and eight inches in Central Florida along the I-4 corridor. But that rain could move south, a worrisome track for water managers wrestling with already high levels in Lake Okeechobee. Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers increased releases from the lake into coastal estuaries to relieve pressure on the lake’s aging dike.

All 16 counties in the district had above average rain in May, the South Florida Water Management District reported. Among the wettest spots was Lake Okeechobee, where 7.33 inches of rain fell, more than four inches above average, the district said. Rainfall for the year is the second largest total since records started in 1932.

While the season looks to be getting an early start, forecasters are calling for a near normal number of storms, with 10 to 16 named storms, four to eight hurricanes and one to four major storms. If the Gulf storm forms, it will be named Colin.

Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich

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