Tropical depression or tropical storm could form at anytime next couple of days

Update 8 p.m.: The National Hurricane Center continues to give the loose low-pressure system beating a path toward Florida an 80 percent chance of developing into a tropical depression or tropical storm during the next five days, but now says it has a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression by Saturday.

The disheveled nature of the system makes its future particularly hard to forecast.

Update 2 p.m.:  The National Hurricane Center says the tropical wave north of the Leeward Islands has not formed a well-defined center of circulation and continues to give it an 80 percent chance of tropical cyclone development over the next five days.

8 p.m.

It is nevertheless producing tropical storm force winds in squalls over the northernmost Leeward Islands.

Forecasters said this system could become a tropical depression or tropical storm at anytime over the next couple of days.

The hurricane center is putting the Bahamas and Florida on notice to monitor the progress of the system, but said it is still too early to speculate on what its future strength and track may be.

The system is sending heavy rain to the northern Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico is under a flash flood watch.

Update 11:35 a.m.: An Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft has found winds of tropical storm force in the wave near the northern Leeward Islands but is still determining if a tropical cyclone has formed.

According to a special 11:30 update, forecasters said a few squalls with tropical storm force winds can be expected over the northern Leeward Islands and portions of the northern U.S. and British Virgin Islands this afternoon.

To gain the title of tropical storm, a cluster of thunderstorms must be producing winds of 39 mph or higher and have a closed center of circulation.

The National Hurricane Center said there is a high chance a tropical depression will form from the broad area of low pressure over the northern Leeward Islands, and have put the Bahamas and Florida on alert for possible bad weather.

Location of 99-L as of 6 a.m. Wednesday

Location of 99-L as of 6 a.m. Wednesday

As of an 8 a.m. tropical weather outlook, a tropical wave, which would be named Hermine if it gains tropical storm strength, was given a 80 percent chance of development by Saturday.

Hurricane center forecasters said radar images show showers and thunderstorms are more concentrated and are showing signs of organizing. But no well-defined circulation can be seen.

An Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft and crew is scheduled to investigate the tropical wave this morning.

Capture

The system, which is on a path to affect Florida late Sunday early Monday is moving west-northwest at 15 to 20 mph.

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

Puerto Rico is under a flash flood watch today with as much as 4 inches of rain expected to fall.

But hurricane center forecasters said people living in the northeastern Caribbean Sea to the Bahamas should also continue to monitor the progress of this system. Gusty winds, heavy rains, and possible flash floods and mud slides could occur regardless of tropical cyclone formation.

The National Weather Service in Miami is also asking South Florida to watch the system closely .

Read: Big money, big data behind spaghetti models, what they mean.

“There is obvious considerable uncertainty due to the potential for tropical cyclone development or lack thereof over the weekend,” Miami-based meteorologists wrote this morning. “However, even in the absence of development, there will likely be deep tropical moisture, widespread showers and thunderstorms and windy conditions through the weekend likely continuing into at least Monday.”

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Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman with the Hurricane Center, said any predictions about the impact on Florida were “pure speculation” on Tuesday as computer forecast models couldn’t come to consensus on 99-L’s future.

Meteorologists for private groups such as the Weather Channel, Weather Underground and AccuWeather were more bullish on it strengthening, saying it could become a hurricane before reaching the coast.

Intensity models aren't sure whether 99-L will be a tropical storm or hurricane.

Intensity models aren’t sure whether 99-L will be a tropical storm or hurricane.

No hurricane has made landfall in Florida since 2005’s Hurricane Wilma – a storm drought unprecedented in recorded history.

“This storm has the potential to be trouble,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground and a former NOAA Hurricane Hunter. “It’s one of the more significant threats to Florida in the past four years.”

Everything you need to know about preparing for the 2016 hurricane season is in The Palm Beach Post’s storm guide.

Carl Parker, a hurricane specialist at the Weather Channel, agreed that a hurricane could form as the system moves over the bathtub warm waters of the Bahamas.

“It’s very much within the realm of possibility that we are looking at a hurricane at this time,” Parker said. “The next few days are going to be critical.

The key, Parker said, is where the center of spin develops. If it develops along a more southern track, then the system could be forced to climb over Hispaniola and a mountain range with up to 10,000-foot peaks. That path could break the storm to pieces before it has a chance to sip on the near 90-degree waters of the Bahamas. A similar scenario happened with Tropical Storm Erika last year.

But if it forms more to the north, skirting Hispaniola, there’s a better chance of it mustering hurricane status.

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