Caribbean system could become tropical threat to Florida

As Hurricane Fiona plows north and Tropical Storm Gaston meanders in the Atlantic, a system now in the Caribbean has the attention of long-term forecasts that could bring it close to Florida by next week.

The National Hurricane Center continues to issue advisories on the two named storms including strong Category 4 Hurricane Fiona that could be a threat to Bermuda, but it also is keeping odds on three systems that could become the next tropical depression or storm.

At the top of the list is a tropical wave with showers and thunderstorms already bringing heavy rainfall and gusty winds to the southern Windward Islands and soon Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, northwestern Venezuela and northeastern Colombia.

“Upper-level winds are currently inhibiting development, the upper-level wind pattern ahead of the system is forecast to become a little more favorable in a couple of days, and a tropical depression is likely to form at that time,” said US Navy Hurricane Specialist Dave Roberts.

The system is expected to move west-northwestward and be in the central Caribbean this weekend. The NHC gives it a 70% chance of formation in the next two days, and 90% within the next five days.

Long-term forecast models, often referred to as the spaghetti models, have varying paths for the system, but several expect it to travel over Cuba and threaten Florida by next week.

“It could develop into a tropical depression or tropical storm in the next couple of days,” said Jamie Rhome, acting NHC Director on Wednesday. “Now there’s a lot of speculation about the potential impacts from this system to the United States and that is way too premature to go that far.”

He said the NHC is dealing with its potential into the weekend.

“Beyond that we can’t say much with certainty because remember, the predictability of systems that haven’t yet formed, and this system hasn’t yet formed, is very low, and until a system forms, until a low-level circulation forms, we won’t be able to say much with certainty about impacts to the United States,” he said.

The NHC is also tracking two more systems with a lower chance of formation.

Closer to Florida in the central tropical Atlantic but with lower chances is a broad area of ​​low pressure several hundred miles west-southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands. It features disorganized showers and thunderstorms, but is in what the NHC says only marginal environmental conditions.

“Some slow development of this system is possible over the next several days while it moves slowly northwestward or northward over the tropical Atlantic,” Roberts said.

The NHC gives is a 20% chance to form in the next two days and 30% chance in the next five.

Farther away but more likely to form is a tropical wave off the west coast of Africa with showers and thunderstorms now over the warm waters of the far eastern Atlantic Ocean.

“Environmental conditions are forecast to be conducive for some development, and a tropical depression could form by this weekend while the system moves slowly northward, between west Africa and the Cabo Verde Islands,” Roberts said.

Chances are at 60% for formation in the next two to five days.

Whichever system gets to sustained winds of 39 mph or more would take the name Tropical Storm Hermine with the next names on the hurricane list being Ian and Julia.

The biggest storm in the Atlantic, though, is Hurricane Fiona, now barreling north forecast to pass by Bermuda and target Canada.

As of 8 am the NHC puts its center about 455 miles southwest of Bermuda, currently under a hurricane warning and where weather conditions are expected to deteriorate later today. It remains a Category 4 major hurricane with 130 mph winds and stronger gusts heading north-northeast at 13 mph. Hurricane-force winds extend out 70 miles with tropical-storm-force winds extending out 205 miles.

“A north-northeastward or northeastward motion with an increase in forward speed is expected today through Friday, followed by a somewhat slower northward motion beginning Friday night or Saturday,” said NHC senior hurricane specialist Daniel Brown. “On the forecast track, the center of Fiona will pass just to the west of Bermuda tonight, approach Nova Scotia on Friday, and move across Nova Scotia and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Saturday.”

While not a threat to Florida, the swells from Fiona are spreading to the west and could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions on the US East Coast including Florida as well as the Bahamas.

It’s expected to pick up forward speed and transition to a powerful post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds when it moves over Nova Scotia this weekend.

Farther out in the Atlantic is Tropical Storm Gaston, which has some of the Azores islands under a tropical storm warning.

As of 8 am, the NHC puts Gaston’s center about 340 miles west-northwest of Faial Island in the Central Azores with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph moving east-northeast at 17 mph. Its tropical-storm-force winds extend out 60 miles.

“A turn to the east is expected by tonight, and a slower southeastern or southward motion is forecast by early Saturday. On the forecast track, the center of Gaston will move near or over portions of the Azores on Friday,” said NHC senior hurricane specialist John Cangialosi.

The system is forecast to weaken over the next few days and then shift paths south and back east as it transitions into a post-tropical cyclone.

Since Sept. 1, the tropics have begun to play catchup churning out four named storms in three weeks after nearly two months of quiet.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in early August updated its season prediction that 2022 would still be above-average with 14 to 21 named storms, although not a single named storm formed in the month of August.

The 2020 hurricane season set a record with 30 named systems, while 2021′s season was the third most active with 21 named systems. An average year calls for 14 named storms.

Through Gaston, 2022 has produced seven named systems.

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