Eye on the Tropics: What you need to know about the potential for tropical development in Gulf


Spring, Texas – There’s definitely not a shortage of Facebook posts, tweets, etc. regarding the potential for tropical development in the Gulf of Mexico over the next few days.  I’d be willing to bet there is a shortage of people getting their preparedness kits together.  I’m guilty too, but I’m going to be preparing regardless if Southeast Texas is in the landfall zone of what could become Tropical Storm, or even Hurricane, Barry.  

Just in case you missed it, Andrea was our first storm in the Atlantic back on May 20th, but she was short-lived.  Now, on to our discussion of what is forecast to become Barry…maybe.

Here’s what we know as of right now:  A broad low pressure area is located over Georgia and is forecast to emerge over the very warm waters of the northeast Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday morning.   Atmospheric conditions will be ripe for tropical development to occur sometime on Thursday (based on what we know now) as the system moves slowly southwestward into the north central Gulf of Mexico.  Because of this, the National Hurricane Center is giving the system a high (80%) chance of development over the next 5 days. 

The warm waters and conducive environment should allow for a tropical storm to form rather quickly going into Friday.  Currently water temps in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly near Florida, are approaching the 90 degree mark.  That’s a lot of heat energy that would feed a tropical system enhancing its ability to strengthen. The below image shows a range of 85 to 89 degree water in the Gulf of Mexico.

Another component of development to consider is wind shear.  Looking at the below forecast valid 2 days from now on July 10th shows very low wind shear over the Gulf of Mexico which would allow for extensive convection (a cluster of thunderstorms) to form over the eventual center of circulation.  This convection is also a key ingredient for a strengthening and developing tropical system.  

Okay, all that above to say that conditions will be right for development to occur.  

Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers right now.  For example…how far from the coast will the system form?  This is important because the distance from shore will impact the westward range of the system as well as the overall strength.  If the system develops further from shore, more of the system will be over warm water AND it will have more time over water before making contact with land…both of which would allow for a stronger storm that may also have a better chance of moving further west and potentially reaching southeast Texas.  Conversely, if it stays closer to shore…it will likely be weaker as it will be disrupted by land interactions and it will not be as likely to move as far west which would favor a Louisiana landfall.   

The weather models are a bit all over the place…..why?!  Because they recognize that a system could form, but there’s no center of circulation to fixate on and generate a decent forecast.  So they end up bouncing around.  For example…the below model runs were from this afternoon. They showed several fairly reliable models targeting SE Texas while others favored Louisiana.

The very latest model runs…below….have shifted back to the East with most favoring a Louisiana landfall. 

This trend of models bouncing around will continue until such time that an actual center of circulation forms and models identify and calculate a forecast based on the center of the low.  

As for eventual strength…that depends largely on the time spent over the warm waters of the Gulf as well as how fast it can get the spin going and the intensity of storms around the center of circulation.  We won’t have a better idea until later on Thursday or Friday.  Current thinking is at least a tropical storm (39-73 mph winds).   

Regardless of development, tropical systems of any strength have the tendency to produce heavy rainfall in their northern and eastern quadrants.  This is also true for this system.  In fact, the Weather Prediction Center has increased the rainfall total potential along the Gulf coast areas that could see impacts from this “System-to-be.”  Below is the 7-day rainfall total potential.  You’ll notice a bulls-eye of heavy rainfall along the southeast Texas coast in response to the earlier model runs that favored Texas.  Tomorrow morning this may shift eastward in response to the latest tracks referenced above.  

If you are thinking, “This really didn’t clarify anything!”  You’re right.  We won’t have a better idea of what will ultimately occur until the system actually begins developing in the Gulf on Wednesday or Thursday.  That said, we know the potential exists for tropical development, and that this system could end up as far west as Texas by the weekend.  More on this tomorrow night with more details on where it may go!

I would recommend Gulf Coast residents take some time to thoroughly think through and prepare for a storm. Especially while you have time and while supplies are available.  Non-perishable foods, water, a radio, medications and batteries are very important.  A first aid kit is also essential.  Prepare for up to 10 days of being without power. What about this question: If given the order to evacuate…where do you go if you have to leave? You know what happens when you wait too long.  Like I said at the beginning…I’m guilty of procrastinating, but we know how fast the forecast can change. Then all of a sudden it’s time to go, and you’re not ready.  Don’t be that person. 

Stay weather aware and tuned to local media for updates. We will bring you another detailed updated tomorrow evening.

 


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Larry Perez is a native Houstonian. He graduated in 2007 with his degree in Meteorology from Texas A&M University.