The tropical wave swirling off the coast of Florida is less likely to thrash the state, but don’t look for blue skies. Rain will likely fall everywhere, from tip to top.
In their seven-day rain forecast Friday, the National Weather Service projected two to six inches in the coming days, with much of that dousing the west coast. Miami-Dade can expect heavy rain beginning Saturday and possibly lasting through Tuesday. Friday evening National Hurricane Center forecasters said the wave remained disorganized as it moved about 10 mph over the central Bahamas, with heavy rain pounding Hispaniola, risking dangerous flash floods and mudslides.
“These waves have enhanced moisture associated with them, starting ahead of the wave and even behind it,” said National Weather Service Miami meteorologist Andrew Hagen. “It could be a rainy time for South Florida.”
The latest forecast models shifted the projected path of the storm south, with only two of the five models taking it across the Florida Keys. But the models are notoriously less reliable tracking weak systems. Monroe County officials warned that two to four inches of rain might soak the island chain between Sunday and Wednesday. Winds could also reach 25 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph, well under tropical storm force.
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As the storm moves northwest over warm water, there’s also a chance it powers up in the Gulf of Mexico and hammers the west coast. Forecasters gave the wave a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical storm over the next five days.
“So it still poses a significant risk, and we are urging everyone to remain vigilant and to prepare for this possible scenario,” Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon said in a statement.
With so much rain in the forecast, South Florida water managers are keeping a close eye on Lake Okeechobee. Record winter rain drove up lake levels and forced flushing to coastal estuaries that left the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon coated in putrid green algae early in the summer. The U.S. Corps of Army Engineers activated its emergency operations center Friday afternoon, but is not yet increasing releases to lower the lake. On Friday, levels stood at about 14.67 feet, well below where managers get alarmed. But heavy rain north of the lake or over it — the seven day forecast calls for up to four inches — could cause water to rise faster than it can be pumped out.
Miami-Dade County is also expected to get rain Sunday through Wednesday, but will likely dodge any serious impacts.
“The news is good news,” county Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a morning press briefing, calling preparations a “pretty good dry run.”
The rain, and the potential for power outages and flooding, could also complicate voting in Tuesday’s primary election. Gimenez said all precincts are scheduled to be open and officials will have a better take on potential problems closer to Tuesday.
“We will adjust accordingly. We don’t expect that to happen,” he said.
Even if the storm remains a messy tangle of thunderstorms, the Bahamas will also likely see gusty winds and heavy rainfall.
Forecasters also began tracking another disturbance early Friday in the northern Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas and Louisiana early Friday. However they gave the storm very little chance of becoming a tropical storm — just 10 percent — before it arrives in Texas. A remnant of Fiona also popped up about 200 miles south of Bermuda, but odds of it becoming a tropical storm as it moves west were a mere 10 percent over the next two days.
Out in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Gaston was moving northwestward about 17 mph. The storm, located about 1,000 miles east of Bermuda had sustained winds of 65 mph at 5 p.m. Friday with tropical storm force winds extending 150 miles. The storm is expected to take a turn to the northeast Monday and remain far from the U.S. coast. Gaston will likely regain hurricane strength Saturday before weakening once again early next week, forecasters said.
The series of systems arrived this week just as the Atlantic enters its peak hurricane season. Historically, 78 percent of the season’s storms occur between mid August and mid October. Before the start of the season, forecasters predicted a slower than usual season but upped their prediction earlier this month. They now expect 12 to 17 named storms, five to eight hurricanes and two to four major hurricanes. So far, the count is seven: three hurricanes and three tropical storms.
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich