Thursday, April 11

Developing Tropical Storm Alex to bring flooding rains to Florida


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Forecasts are coming into clearer focus ahead of a disturbance that is set to organize in the Gulf of Mexico and head toward South Florida on Friday and Saturday. The National Hurricane Center says there is an 80 percent chance that the system will strengthen into a tropical depression and potentially become Alex, the first named storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season.

With a projected track directly over South Florida, forecast confidence is growing about probable effects. Widespread heavy rain and areas of flooding are expected, along with gusty winds, a minor ocean surge and a couple of tornadoes.

The Hurricane Center may issue tropical storm watches for South Florida and the Florida Keys as soon as late Thursday.

June tropical storms and hurricanes are not uncommon in Florida, according to Michael Lowry, a hurricane specialist for the ABC television affiliate WPLG in Miami. In an online discussion, he said that of all the Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes that have affected land in June, “more than a third have been in the state of Florida.” He added that these storms typically aren’t very strong but are “often prolific rainmakers.”

This disturbance marks the first tropical threat of 2022 in the Lower 48 states and the start of what forecasters fear will be the seventh straight above-average Atlantic hurricane season.

NOAA forecasts seventh straight busy Atlantic hurricane season

Researchers at Colorado State University updated their seasonal outlook Thursday morning, increasing their projections for the season’s severity.

They now expect 20 named storms — compared to an average of 14.4 — among which should be 10 hurricanes and five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher. They say that the season should be about 35 percent more active than is typical and that there’s a 76 percent chance that a major hurricane strikes the US mainland.

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The latest on potential Tropical Storm Alex

The National Hurricane Center has designated the area of ​​disturbed weather east of the Yucatán Peninsula an “invest,” meaning it bears watching and could intensify into a depression or storm.

Thus far, the system — which includes the thunderstorm remnants of deadly Hurricane Agatha — has been struggling against strong high-altitude winds that have proven hostile to its development. But a recent flare-up of thunderstorm activity over the open waters east of the system’s center is an indicator that gradual development is likely, anyway.

Data from a scatterometer, or satellite-based sensor, suggests that winds within the system generally range between 25 and 30 mph, but the satellite was not in a position to ascertain whether a cohesive vortex, or center of circulation, was present. That’s a requirement for the disturbance to become a tropical depression.

That could happen this evening or early Friday as the system churns northeast, its center drifting toward the area between Cancún and the western tip of Florida. Despite pernicious wind shear, or a change of wind speed and/or direction with height, the disturbance could reach tropical storm strength and earn the name Alex before arriving in South Florida.

Areas affected: The greatest impacts in Florida will be in the Keys, the Florida Straits and southern parts of the Florida peninsula. That’s because the center of low pressure may pass just to the north of Lake Okeechobee as it slips across south-central Florida on Friday evening. The heaviest rain is projected south of the center.

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Timeline: Light rain will break out in the early hours of Friday morning, becoming moderate to heavy from southwest to northeast during the afternoon and evening. The core of the storm — with the gustiest winds and heaviest rain squalls — will traverse the Keys in the predawn hours Saturday and cross through South Florida, including the Miami metro area, during the late morning into the evening hours.

Rainfall Totals: Most of the moderate-to-heavy rain will remain south of Tampa to the Port Canaveral line. Fort Myers and Naples might see 2 to 4 inches, but closer to the Everglades and Miami, as well as the Keys, a general 6 to 8 inches appears favored. A few double-digit totals can be expected.

  • Scattered instances of flooding are likely, especially in urban areas, given the high rainfall rates.
  • “If forecast trends continue, a flood watch may be considered over the next day or two for portions of the region,” wrote the National Weather Service in Miami.

Winds: In most places, winds will probably peak only in the blustery range, with likes between 20 and 35 mph. A small region near the coastline might see sustained winds approach or meet the 39 mph tropical storm threshold if the system is named. There is an outside chance of a stronger tropical storm that could produce winds exceeding 50 mph, which would pose a risk of power outages.

Arises: The surge, or storm-driven rise in water above normally dry land along the coast, is predicated on wind and, ultimately, will depend on the strength of the system. It’s unlikely that the surge exceeds a foot or two or results in more than minor coastal flooding close to high tide. The surge risk is highest in coastal southwestern Florida.

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Tornadoes: The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has placed the Keys and extreme southwestern Florida under a level 1 out of 5 “marginal risk” for severe weather for Friday and Saturday to accommodate the potential for quick-hitting tropical tornadoes. That’s because of the wind shear associated with tropical landfalling systems, primarily to the right of the center, which can impart a twisting force on individual cells within the spiral rain bands.

The storm will probably move offshore of Florida and brush the northwestern Bahamas late Saturday before passing over the open northwestern Atlantic near the Gulf Stream. There’s a chance it could strengthen along the way, but it shouldn’t affect land. Most model simulations indicate that it will pass safely north of Bermuda, but residents there should monitor forecasts.

Jason Samenow contributed to this report.




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