System near Lesser Antilles given 70% chance of development

Update 8 p.m.: The tropical wave dubbed 99-L, which has gained the attention of forecasters’ eyes in South Florida, has become slightly more organized tonight, according to the National Hurricane Center.

In its 8 p.m. advisory, the NHC gave the system a couple of hundred miles east of the Lesser Antilles a 50 percent chance of developing into a tropical cyclone by Thursday night and a 70 percent chance of doing so by Saturday night.

The wave, moving westward at 10-15 mph, is expected to move into an area more conducive to development as it heads toward the southeastern and central Bahamas. From there, it’s too early to determine with any accuracy the path or strength of this system, though local forecasters are closely monitoring its progress.

NHC 8 p.m. advisory

NHC 8 p.m. advisory

Update 5 p.m.: The National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Gaston should gain hurricane strength by Wednesday as it speeds west-northwest at 18 mph.

Gaston, which is not expected to impact land, has 65  mph winds and is located about 765 miles west of the Cabo Verde Islands.

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Previous story: A brewing tropical wave with a 60 percent chance for development over the next five days has set its sights on Florida and while forecasters are not sounding an alarm yet, they said it’s worth keeping an eye on.

The tropical wave dubbed 99-L is a few hundred miles east of the Lesser Antilles and in an area marginally conducive for gradual development, the National Hurricane Center said as of its 2 p.m. advisory.

An Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter found an elongated, poorly defined circulation and disorganized showers in the tropical wave. But conditions for increased development could improve later this week as the system moves closer to the Bahamas.

A second hurricane hunter aircraft is scheduled to investigate the system tomorrow.

If it gains named status, it would be Hermine, pronounced her-MEEN.

Follow The Palm Beach Post’s interactive storm tracking map. 

Forecasters are urging people in the northeastern Caribbean Sea to the Bahamas to monitor the wave’s progress. Even if it doesn’t develop into a tropical cyclone, gusty winds, heavy rains, flash floods and mud slides are possible with this system.

The National Weather Service has put Puerto Rico on alert, issuing a flash flood watch beginning early Wednesday.

Forecasters said up to 4 inches of rain, with locally higher amounts, are possible. That kind of rain could trigger landslides and flash flooding in areas with steep terrain.

While the official forecast from the National Hurricane Center remains conservative, saying any predictions for Florida at this point are “speculative,” some meteorologists have grown more bullish on the storm.

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Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground and former NOAA Hurricane Hunter, said 99-L could become a hurricane as it moves over the bathtub-warm water near the Bahamas.

“This storm has the potential to be trouble,” Masters said. “It’s one of the more significant threats to Florida in the past four years.”

Masters acknowledged there is a high amount of uncertainty and forecast tracks for systems that are not even tropical depressions can have 500-mile error rates, but said once the storm musters a spin, he doesn’t see much that could stop it from growing to hurricane strength.

“Maybe I’m not doing a public service, but I think people need to hear what the possibilities are and there is a possibility of a significant threat,” Masters said.

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An Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft and crew is scheduled to investigate this system later this morning, but people in the central and northern Lesser Antilles, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico should keep a close eye on its progress.

Dan Kottlowski, a hurricane expert with AccuWeather, said if 99-L moves over the major islands in the Caribbean, then it may not even become a developed storm.

But if its path goes north of the islands, “then significant and rapid development could occur prior to the system approaching the United States’ waters,” AccuWeather said.

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Meanwhile Tropical Storm Gaston is up to 65 mph winds as of the 11 a.m. advisory and expected to become a Category 1 hurricane later today.

The storm, which according to the National Hurricane Center is better organized this morning with a defined inner core, is not forecast to impact land at this point. It is expected to follow a path similar to that of Fiona, heading out into the open Atlantic.

There are no watches or warnings in effect for Gaston, which is located about 685 miles west of the Cabo Verde Islands.

“However, beyond the next week there is some potential for the system to be drawn close to Bermuda or perhaps part of North America,” AccuWeather forecasters said this morning.

Check the Palm Beach Post interactive storm tracking map. 

Gaston was named a tropical depression Monday afternoon and quickly spun up into the seventh named storm of the hurricane season.

It is growing in an area conducive to storm development with low wind shear, warm sea surface temperatures and high mid-level humidity.

These atmospheric features should promote rapid intensification for the next 24 hours.

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