The chances of a formation of a tropical storm developing in the Gulf of Mexico increased to 80 percent, according to the National Hurricane Center.
In terms of severity, what that means for South Florida is anyone’s guess, but rainy weather is expected Monday through Wednesday.
Widespread cloudiness and thunderstorms over the northwestern Caribbean Sea are currently poorly organized, but a low pressure system is expected to form in association with this disturbed weather over the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico by Sunday and move generally northward.
The storm then is likely to develop into a tropical cyclone as it moves northeastward across the central and eastern Gulf of Mexico early next week.
The central path of the storm will likely take it over portions of the Yucatan Peninsula, western Cuba, the Florida Keys and the Tampa area during the next several days.
For Palm Beach County, there is a risk of flooding with outer bands from the system. Isolated tornadoes are also a threat early next week.
1. Hurricane Wilma was a Category 3 when it made landfall on the west coast of Florida Oct. 24, 2005.
2. Sandy, after reaching Category 3 strength, weakened to a post-tropical low before making landfall northeast of Atlantic City on Oct. 29, 2012.
3. Storm surge, rain and surf, not wind, cause the most deaths during and after a hurricane. About 80 percent of deaths directly attributable to Atlantic tropical cyclones between 1963 and 2012 were water related.
6. El Nino, which helps knock down Atlantic hurricanes, is on the way out, while La Nina, which is more storm-friendly has a 75 percent chance of emerging by fall.
7. You should have a gallon of drinking water per person, per day for one week.
8. Hurricane Patricia ended Hurricane Wilma’s reign as the most intense hurricane on record in October. Patricia, which reached wind speeds of more than 200 mph in the Pacific before hitting a rural area of Mexico, had a central pressure of 872 millibars. Wilma’s pressure was 882 millibars.
9. The 1900 Great Galveston Hurricane killed 8,000 people. Florida’s Okeechobee Hurricane in 1928 is ranked second, killing up to 3,000 people when a storm surge broke through a weak dike around Lake Okeechobee. (This is corrected from an earlier version that said the Okeechobee storm was the top killer)
10. Hurricane Katrina had weakened to a Category 3 storm with peak winds of 125 mph at landfall.
The official start of the 2016 hurricane season is June 1, but the atmosphere is brewing up a little preview that may form into a tropical system by Memorial Day.
Meteorologists are watching forecast models that show an area of low pressure forming near the Bahamas that has the potential to become the season’s first tropical depression with a path toward Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
Andy Mussoline, senior meteorologist with the Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather, said the system is a signal that weather patterns are shifting, making things more favorable in the Atlantic for hurricanes.
“We think any development that would occur later this week will be slow with a tropical depression likely the beginning,” Mussoline said. “We have warm water, low wind shear. Something may show up as early as Thursday.”
While a few days ahead of schedule, early tropical development has some precedents.
Hurricanes have formed in every month but February.
Last year, Tropical Storm Ana opened the 2015 hurricane season with a May 9 debut.
This year, Hurricane Alex formed Jan. 14, making it only the second January-born Atlantic hurricane on record.
Other hurricanes refusing to adhere to man’s calendar include Alice, which formed Dec. 31, 1954, but managed to live through the New Year before dissipating Jan. 4. Another tropical storm dubbed Ana formed April 20 in 2003, while Tropical Storm Alberto was named May 19, 2012. Alberto was followed just days later by Tropical Storm Beryl, which formed May 26.
While January’s Hurricane Alex was more of a hold-over from the 2015 storm season, its formation date on the calendar made it a 2016 storm.
That means if the system being watched by forecasters develops, it would be named Bonnie.
But some forecasters aren’t ready to fire up the season just yet.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami has not identified the low pressure system that may develop as one to watch for potential tropical characteristics, and Jeff Masters, co-founder and director of meteorology for Weather Underground, confirmed an area of low pressure is expected to form but said the forecast is more muddled from there.
“The models have widely differing ideas on how much wind shear might be present, so it is too early to say if this system is a legitimate threat to develop into a tropical depression,” Masters said Monday.
Tropical cyclones are unique in that they have warmer temperatures at their centers — so called “warm cores” — that are able to sustain the strength of the storm over long distances.
But they need warm ocean waters and low wind shear to prosper — ingredients AccuWeather forecasters say are there.
Ocean temperatures are about 80 degrees with light winds that are expected to remain that way into next week.
Whether a tropical system forms, showers and thunderstorms are expected to increase from Florida to the Carolinas later this week and through Memorial Day with increasingly dangerous surf conditions.
“We think any development will be slow,” Mussoline said. “But we have warm water, low wind shear and high atmospheric moisture, which, combined, can mean tropical formation.”
In its fiscal year 2017 budget request, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said it plans to reduce its investment in the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project, which was launched in response to the record storm seasons of 2004 and 2005.
The program was originally given $13 million annually beginning in 2009. That was cut to $4.8 million last year and is expected to be further reduced to $3.8 million as focus turns to a broader array of prediction products that will refine all hazardous weather forecasts, said NOAA spokesman David Miller.
A $2 million reduction has also been requested to forgo future research and development for computing capacity as NOAA “reduces its investment” in the project.
“As noted in our Congressional Justification language, we are proposing to refocus research-to-operations efforts from separate regional and application specific modeling and forecast improvements — such as hurricanes — to an integrated holistic approach,” Miller said. “The benefits gained will affect all forecast products, including hurricanes.”
Before the project, hurricane track forecasts improved on average only a few percent per year with intensity predictions improving a fraction of a percent.
Since 2010 when research began with the project, or HFIP, track and intensity forecasts improved an average of 5 percent per year.
The National Hurricane Center referred calls about HFIP cuts to the National Weather Service, which falls under NOAA.
But in past interviews with The Palm Beach Post, James Franklin, chief of the center’s hurricane specialists unit, stressed the importance of the project and said cuts would negatively affect improvements.
“You go 30 years and no one wants to spend money on hurricane prediction and then you have all the 2004 and 2005 storms,” Franklin said last year in an interview for a story about forecast changes since Hurricane Katrina. “It would be a shame for the progress we are starting to make to be cut back and slow.”
Another unnerving hurricane forecast was released Friday, this one calling for 2016 to be the most active season in years as the global atmosphere adjusts to a fading El Nino.
The prediction from The Weather Company, which until recently owned The Weather Channel, is the third this month to predict a slightly above average storm season.
Friday’s forecast said to expect 14 named storms, eight hurricanes, including three major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher. The forecast also includes Hurricane Alex, which formed in January.
An average hurricane season has 12 named storms, six hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.
“Bottom line: The U.S. is due for another hurricane strike sooner rather than later, but it’s impossible to know if that will occur this season,” said a press release….
Florida has not been hit by a hurricane since Wilma in 2005 – a decade-long streak unprecedented in the history of known storms.
Two previous forecasts from Colorado State University and AccuWeather also called for the storm season that runs June 1 through November to have more storms than the 30-year historic norm.
CSU’s forecast, whose lead author is research scientist Phil Klotzbach, called for 13 named storms. AccuWeather’s forecast predicts 14 named storms. Unlike the other forecasts, AccuWeather also said to expect three hurricanes to make landfall.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hurricane forecast is scheduled to be released May 27.
Despite the somewhat foreboding predictions, one Florida International University hurricane expert said forecasts this early in the year can be unreliable.
Hugh Willoughby, who is a retired 27-year veteran of NOAA’s hurricane division, said April forecasts are made within the “spring predictability barrier.”
“That means no one has a clue as to what is going to happen over the summer,” Willoughby said. “The forecasts become more useful as we get into June, but right now, it’s really murky.”
No one, even those making the forecasts, seems to argue that there is a high level of uncertainty in hurricane predictions this early in the season.
This year, the biggest determining factors in trying to forecast the hurricane season is the waning El Nino, and whether a cold blob of water south of Greenland will drift down to the coast of Africa and cool sea surface temperatures.
Cooler sea surface temperatures can reduce tropical cyclone formation. At the same time, El Nino’s strong westerly wind shear that guarded against hurricanes is not expected to last through summer. La Nina, which creates a more favorable environment for storms, has a 70 percent chance of forming by fall, according to NOAA.
The Weather Company’s forecast stresses that the level of activity of a season doesn’t necessarily correlate with how many damaging storms occur.
In 1992, just six named storms formed, but one of them was the Category 5 Hurricane Andrew.
Compare that to 2010 when 19 storms earned names, but no hurricanes made a U.S. landfall.