The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm watch for parts of South Florida — including Golden Gate, the Florida Keys, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Photo courtesy of NOAA
The arrival of the first organized tropical system of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season is imminent, AccuWeather meteorologists say, a point emphasized by the issuance of a tropical storm watch for the mainland United States.
The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm watch for parts of South Florida — including Golden Gate, the Florida Keys, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach — as a strengthening tropical system is poised to deliver torrential rain in the days ahead, regardless of whether it strengthens into a depression or even a tropical storm.
Prior to the weekend, a tropical depression will form and begin to send torrential rain into South Florida. The system, currently a tropical rainstorm, will organize slowly and is likely to become Tropical Storm Alex over the waters surrounding the Florida Peninsula or, perhaps, right over the Sunshine State itself.
The tropical rainstorm, which AccuWeather meteorologists have been tracking all week, was dubbed Invest 91L on Wednesday by the NHC and then designated a Potential Tropical Cyclone late Thursday afternoon. The government agency may begin to issue tropical storm watches for areas in the path of the storm and send a hurricane hunter aircraft to investigate the brewing system later Thursday.
AccuWeather forecasters noted that satellite imagery showed the system was looking much better organized late on Thursday morning.
The system continued showing signs of development Thursday in a zone of tropical moisture over the northwestern Caribbean, near the eastern shoreline of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Some of the moisture is leftover from the former Hurricane Agatha, which struck southwestern Mexico on Monday. A similar setup occurred in 2020 when Tropical Storm Amanda moved inland over Guatemala and diminished but help to spawn Tropical Storm Cristobal that later hit the central Gulf Coast of the United States.
Wind shear will likely affect how quickly the system strengthens as it moves across the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, according to AccuWeather chief on-air meteorologist Bernie Rayno. These stiff winds in the middle and upper parts of the atmosphere may remain strong enough to prevent the quick development of the tropical system into Friday, he noted.
Should wind shear drop off over the Gulf, which is anticipated starting on Friday, waters are more than warm enough to spur on more progressive development, prior to the system crossing the Florida Peninsula on Saturday.
Water temperatures in the path of the storm over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico are well into the 80s F. Weighing these conditions, the system is likely to reach southwestern Florida as Tropical Depression One or, possibly, as Tropical Storm Alex.
There is a chance that the tropical rainstorm could strengthen into a full-blown, named tropical storm while over the Florida Peninsula. A system strengthening into a tropical storm over land is a rare occurrence but something that happened as recently as last year.
A similar situation occurred with Claudette in 2021. The tropical depression became the third tropical storm of the season over swampy Louisiana lands last June. Since the Florida Peninsula is surrounded by warm water on three sides, this is a possibility with the first Atlantic tropical system of 2022.
Wind shear is likely to remain strong enough to cause much of the shield of rain to be skewed to the eastern side of the storm. This means that the first showers will spread over the Florida Keys and South Florida on Thursday night with the heaviest rain to push northeastward on Friday or nearly 24 hours ahead of the arrival of the storm center.
The rain will be beneficial in some South Florida communities due to abnormally dry to drought conditions that have unfolded this spring. However, too much rain will fall in many locations and is likely to cause flooding in urban and low-lying areas. Forecasters say motorists and pedestrians should be prepared to take alternative routes in locations that are prone to flooding during times of heavy rain.
Much of the zone from the Keys to the Everglades and the Miami area is likely to receive a general 8-12 inches of rain with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 20 inches. Much of that rain may fall in 24 hours and is more than enough to trigger street and highway flooding.
AccuWeather meteorologists have given this storm a rating of less than 1 for the U.S., Cuba and the Bahamas according to the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for hurricanes. The main threat to lives and property is likely to stem from heavy rainfall.
Rainfall amounts of 4-8 inches are anticipated across western Cuba, which can trigger flash flooding and mudslides over the hilly terrain into the end of the week. The storm is forecast to bring similar rainfall with gusty thunderstorms over portions of the northwestern Bahamas from later Friday night to Saturday night.
As the storm gains strength, it will begin to produce stiff winds, which will cause seas and surf to build from Friday to Saturday. Conditions are likely to become dangerous for boaters and swimmers.
Depending on how quickly the storm ramps up, minor coastal flooding may develop Friday and continue Saturday around the Florida Peninsula and Keys.
As the storm strengthens while crossing Florida and the adjacent waters, locally severe thunderstorms will bring the risk of a few tornadoes and waterspouts.
As the storm swings northeastward over the Atlantic later this weekend and into the middle of next week, there is the potential for rough surf, strong rip currents and minor beach erosion to expand northward. Many of the East Coast beaches were hit hard earlier this spring by a slow-moving non-tropical storm.
“As the tropical system moves northeastward over the Atlantic, it could pass close enough to Bermuda to bring beneficial rain to the islands,” AccuWeather senior on-air meteorologist Mark Mancuso said. The island nation captures and recycles rainwater since there are no natural reservoirs or springs. Strict building codes enable the island to withstand a strong tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane with minimal impact and damage.
Since much of the rain may precede the center of the storm as it moves across Florida, the weather may improve significantly Saturday afternoon in southwestern Florida and much of the central and southern counties of the state should be mainly dry, sunny and warm on Sunday. High temperatures in low to mid-80s are likely in the rain zone from Friday to Saturday, but in the sunshine on Sunday, widespread highs in the upper 80s to mid-90s are likely.
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