Some of the computer models show development of tropical weather heading toward Florida’s west coast. Others show it taking a westward track toward Texas.
Meteorologists with the National Hurricane Center gives the area of low pressure shaded in red an 80 percent chance of developing into a tropical depression or storm within the next 48 hours.
Infrared satellite photo of the low pressure system located north of the Yucatan Peninsula. The system is creating a large area of cloudy, rainy and stormy weather over the Gulf of Mexico and coastal regions, including Tampa Bay.
Pinellas County Emergency Management is asking residents to keep a close eye on the weather this weekend as forecasters watch for tropical development of an area of low pressure located over the south-central Gulf of Mexico.
Information Specialist Tom Iovino with the county’s Communication Department said Friday that it was still too soon to know what affect the low pressure might have on the local area.
“The storm’s not even formed yet,” he said. “There’s no center of circulation.”
During a conference call earlier in the day with county officials, Dan Noah, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service forecast office in Ruskin, explained that computer models are still in disagreement about which direction a storm might go if it did form.
“About half (of the models) take it due west and about half to the east,” Iovino said.
The National Hurricane Center continues to advise everyone along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico to monitor the progress of the disturbance through the weekend.
“Right now, everyone just needs to pay attention and check the weather every day,” Iovino said.
NHC forecasters say there’s a 70 percent chance that what is now only a surface low will develop into a tropical depression within the next 48 hours.
“Environmental conditions appear conducive for a tropical depression to form,” the NHC said in its 2 p.m. advisory.
Computer models that take the system toward the west coast of Florida, some toward Tampa Bay, give a potential timetable of Tuesday, which gives residents the weekend to get ready in case they need to prepare.
Iovino said residents didn’t need to prepare as if a hurricane were coming. There is no need to put up shutters or get ready to evacuate. But people might want to take note of those things they might need to take inside should tropical weather threaten.
“Check for space in your home for things like lawn furniture, the barbecue grill,” he said, and other loose items that might blow away if winds get gusty.
“At 60 mph a tropical storm can do damage,” he said.
“Check your kit and your important papers,” he said.
Iovino said people should not be surprised if the low didn’t develop into a threat. Of the 130 storm systems that the NHC issued advisories on in 2011, only 19 developed into a tropical system.
“But it doesn’t hurt to double check your plans,” he said.
He said if a tropical storm did come ashore in Pinellas, people could expect sustained winds over an extended time and an increase in wave action on the beaches. Flooding is likely.
“Gulf Boulevard was under water during Josephine in 1996,” he said.
Rainfall amounts of 4 to 7 inches are expected around Tampa Bay over the next four days. Iovino said the rains likely would not be continuous but would come in torrential downpours.
He cautioned residents to be careful on the roadways and not to drive through water of unknown depth.
“You can’t see where the ditches are or if there damage to the road under the water,” he said. “Don’t drive into a bad situation.”
He repeated the warning NWS gives out during flood advisories, “Turn around, don’t drown.”
Iovino said officials did not want residents to panic.
“Just sit up and take notice,” he said. “Even if this is just a dry run, it’s good practice. We still have five months (before end of season). Anything can happen.”
Local weather forecast
Scattered and numerous showers and thunderstorms are forecast through tonight. Heavy rainfall and localized flooding is possible, the NWS said.
The forecast for the weekend calls for showers and thunderstorms with the potential for heavy rainfall along coastal areas and offshore. Forecasters point out that the forecast could be affected by the development of tropical weather.
The rip current risk could increase by Monday depending on the development of the low. People with beach plans this weekend and early next week are urged to check rip current forecasts and pay attention to local beach patrols.
Winds and seas are forecast to increase through the weekend due to the low pressure. Small craft advisories likely will be issued starting Saturday, with additional advisories possible. The NWS advises mariners to keep up to date with the latest forecasts.
Early start to the 2012 season
The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season kicked off early with two names crossed off the list before the official start date of June 1.
Tropical Storm Alberto, which formed May 19 off the coast of South Carolina, is the earliest-forming tropical storm in the Atlantic Basin since Ana in 2003, according to the NHC. This year also is the first time that a tropical storm has formed before the official start of the hurricane season in the Atlantic and East Pacific basins.
The Atlantic basin hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. It includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. The East Pacific season began May 15.
Tropical Storm Beryl arrived just in time for Memorial Day, coming ashore Jacksonville Beach at near-hurricane strength with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph just after midnight May 28. A minimum Category 1 hurricane has maximum sustained winds of 74 mph. Beryl caused numerous power failures as it downed trees and flooded streets. Vacationers and residents spent much of the holiday dealing with high winds, heavy rains, dangerous surf and rip currents.
Tropical Storm Chris formed Tuesday, June 19, about 560 miles south-southwest of Cape Race Newfoundland. No threat to land is expected. History shows only two third-named storms that formed earlier in the season than Chris – one in 1887 and another in 1959. Chris also makes the record books as no tropical storm has formed as far north in the Atlantic this early in hurricane season. Chris strengthened into the first hurricane of 2012 season on June 21. The NHC issues its last advisory on June 22.
If the low currently located over the Gulf of Mexico strengthens into a tropical storm, it would be called Debby. If it does form, it would be the first time since recordkeeping began in 1851 that a fourth tropical storm formed before July during the Atlantic hurricane season.
2012 season predictions
Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project released its predictions June 1, calling for a below-average chance of major hurricanes making landfall along the U.S. Coastline and the Caribbean this year.
A report written by Dr. Phil Klotzbach, research scientist, and William Gray, Professor emeritus of atmospheric science, predicts that 12 named storms will form in 2012, five hurricanes and two major hurricanes. A major hurricane is a Category 3, 4 or 5.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its predictions on May 24, calling for a near-normal season.
“NOAA’s outlook predicts a less active season compared to recent years,” said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D.
Based on statistical data from 1981 to 2010, average activity has been 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says there is a 70 percent chance that nine to 15 named storms will form in 2012, with four to eight hurricanes and one to three major hurricanes.
Gray and Klotzbach, and NOAA’s experts will update their forecast in August before the beginning of what is considered the peak of the season.
2012 storm names
Since 1953, Atlantic tropical storms had been named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center. The 2012 list of names include Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie and William.