The National Hurricane Center has identified the first potential tropical system of 2018, giving an area of storminess in the Gulf of Mexico a 40 percent chance of formation over the next five days.
The disturbance, which would be named Alberto if it forms up, has a 30 percent chance of developing into a tropical or subtropical system over the next 48 hours.
Forecasters have been watching the area in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for days as a dipping jet stream was expected to give a developing area of low pressure some energy.
“At this point the intensity doesn’t matter because it already is what it’s going to be – a big blob of rain,” said Dave Samuhel, a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather. “It’s going to have some wind, but mostly a lot of rain that will open a channel of moisture over Florida all week.”
Weather Underground co-founder Jeff Masters predicted Friday that a subtropical or tropical system could form up by Wednesday near the coast of the Panhandle.
That would be two weeks before the official June 1 start date of the hurricane season.
“Sea surface temperatures off the coast of the Florida Panhandle are near 77 degrees – a little cooler than is typically needed to see a tropical depression form, but plenty warm enough to support formation of a subtropical depression,” Masters said in a Friday blog.
A subtropical storm typically has its fastest winds further from its core and may not carry as much rainfall as a tropical storm. A tropical storm also has more pure thunderstorms wrapping around its core, which increases its potential for strengthening.
“This one has a pretty low ceiling for its upper-level potential,” Samuhel said about the disturbance in the Gulf.
The National Hurricane Center expects the area of low pressure to move slowly north during the next few days, hugging the west coast of the state.
For the past three years, tropical systems have formed before the June 1 start date of hurricane season.
Tropical Storm Arlene formed in April 2017. In 2016, Hurricane Alex formed in January, followed by Tropical Storm Bonnie spinning up in May. Tropical Storm Ana formed in May 2015.
A leading hurricane forecast from Colorado State University released in April predicted a slightly above normal season this year, but an early storm isn’t necessarily an indicator of that.
In 2012, two tropical storms occurred in May — Alberto and Beryl. That turned out to be a busy year with 19 named storms and 10 hurricanes. But in 2015 Tropical Storm Ana formed in May, and there were just 11 named storms and four hurricanes that year.
The next forecast from the National Hurricane Center is scheduled to be released at 11 a.m. Monday.
UPDATE, 4 p.m.: An area of cloudiness, showers and thunderstorms making its way through the southeastern Gulf of Mexico could have an impact on what promises to already be a wet early part of next week for Palm Beach County.
The National Hurricane Center reports that the area — which could acquire subtropical or tropical characteristics as it moves northward through the gulf — may “enhance rainfall across portions of Florida … during the next few days.”
There’s a 40 percent chance the disturbance could form into a tropical or subtropical system in the next five days, giving us an early start to the tropical weather season.
UPDATE, 12:30 p.m.: The National Weather Service’s significant weather advisory has expired, although several rain areas continue to move through Palm Beach County.
The rain is expected to continue through the evening. The National Weather Service expects between 1 and 2 inches to fall through the night.
According to updated numbers from the National Weather Service, between three and four inches of rain are expected for coastal Palm Beach County through Wednesday morning.
UPDATE, 11:15 a.m.: The National Weather Service has issued a significant weather advisory for Palm Beach and northern Broward counties until 11:45 a.m.
The area of concern is a line of storms extending “from the Port of Palm Beach to 14 miles northwest of Parkland to nine miles northeast of the Miccosukee Service Plaza (along Florida’s Turnpike),” according to the advisory.
The communities mentioned cover north and central Palm Beach County, west to Lion Country Safari.
The advisory warns of winds in excess of 45 mph and possible funnel clouds.
UPDATE, 11 a.m.: A streak of heavy rain is making its way through central Palm Beach County, with more expected for the rest of the day. The rain is moving in a northwest direction, according to Palm Beach Post radar.
Some smaller storms have already begun to pop up west of Boynton Beach near U.S. 441, according to Palm Beach Post radar.
According to the weather service, there may be gusts up to 25 mph and locally heavy rain in the next few hours. This rain is expected to be the start of several days of soaking weather through Wednesday.
A recent weather service graphic shows the heaviest amount of rain will be coming down from West Palm Beach north through Jupiter. Jupiter is expected to get nearly 3 1/2 inches through Wednesday, while West Palm south to Boca Raton is expected to get more than three.
According to the weather service’s high-end prediction, there is a 10 percent chance these areas could get up to 5 inches of rain through Wednesday.
As it did Friday, the Weather Prediction Center of the NWS has Palm Beach County within an area of marginal risk — between 5 and 10 percent — for rainfall “exceeding flash flood guidance”. That means there’s a small chance rain will be heavy enough to cause some flooding.