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Tropical storm expected to form today, but “many hurdles” for system

Kimberly Miller
kmiller@pbpost.com

The National Hurricane Center is expecting the disturbance slogging through the Leeward Islands to reach tropical storm strength on Wednesday.

So-called Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine was 350 miles southeast of Puerto Rico early Wednesday with 45 mph winds. It was moving west northwest at 23 mph.

Forecasters are looking for the disturbance to gain a closed center of circulation, which would designate it a tropical cyclone. A burst of thunderstorms near a raggedy center overnight is a signal the system is organizing, NHC forecasters said.

Most of Florida remains in the cone of uncertainty for what is expected to become Tropical Storm Isaias, but the track has shifted slightly west and south with a landfall now forecast in the Florida Keys late Saturday into early Sunday. The center of the cone skims the west coast of the state. Much of the Panhandle is also now included in the potential track of the system.

The official NHC forecast keeps the disturbance a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph.

Tropical storm watches have been posted for the southeastern Bahamas, including the Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Cay, the Inaguas, Mayaguana and the Ragged Islands.

Without a well defined center it is difficult to predict the track and intensity of the system, but a possible move over the mountains of Hispaniola may weaken the storm and make it difficult for it to regain strength in the Straits of Florida.

The designation by the National Hurricane Center of the spin of low pressure as Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine is a technical title given when the disturbance is not yet a cyclone — defined as having a closed center circulation — but is expected to become one near land. It allows forecasters to issue watches, warnings and full advisories ahead of a possible landfall even though the system is not yet a depression or storm.

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“Simply put, there are a lot of hurdles in the systems’s way, so it is best to stay on the conservative side at the oment and continue to stress the large uncertainty after it leaves the Caribbean,” said NHC senior hurricane specialist Eric Blake in a forecast early Wednesday. “

Tropical storm conditions are expected across portions of the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico today and spreading west to portions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday.

Unlike tiny Tropical Storm Gonzalo that formed in the same area last week, the developing system is a Goliath, with tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 275 miles.

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A Bermuda High stretching from the Azores to Bermuda is steering the system quickly west. Blake said the high is expected to weaken later this week, which will cause it to slow down.

“However, it should be emphasized that this forecast track is highly uncertain until a true center forms,” Blake said.

If Isaias forms this week, it would be another record-breaker for a season that hasn’t even reached the climatological peak of hurricane activity. The current record for the earliest “I”-named storm is Irene on Aug. 7, 2005.

But Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach stressed that 2020 is no 2005.

While this season has reached eight named storms faster than any season on record, six years in the satellite era have generated more accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE. ACE is a measure of a storm’s power and lifespan.

Just one hurricane has formed so far this season. In 2005, four hurricanes had formed by late July.

Last week, Palm Beach County Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson urged people to assemble a hurricane kit, review evacuation zones and consider their shelter plans with a busy storm season already in full swing.

Johnson said people wanting to stay at one of the county’s 15 shelters will have their temperature taken and be questioned about travel and potential contact with someone with Covid-19. People believed to be sick will be isolated in separate areas of the shelter.

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“We want to ensure that no one required to evacuate should make the decision to not evacuate because of Covid,” Johnson said Friday. “We are making sure all of our shelters are the safest places to be during a hurricane.”

Kmiller@pbpost.com

@Kmillerweather