Alex could form and flood Florida as Atlantic hurricane season begins

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Wednesday marks the official start of Atlantic hurricane season and, like clockwork, the first tropical depression or named storm is about to form.

This depression or projected storm – which will be called Alex if it gains a name – could produce more than half a foot of rain in South Florida on Friday and Saturday, leading to possible flooding.

The potential storm would have originated from showers and thunderstorms that are clustered just east of the Yucatán Peninsula and are expected to consolidate into a more concentrated area of ​​low pressure as they move north and east. over the Gulf of Mexico in the coming days. The remnants of Hurricane Agatha, which slammed into southern Mexico on Monday as the country’s strongest May storm on record, are dragged into this system.

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The National Hurricane Center says the system has an 80% chance of becoming a depression or tropical storm by the weekend. Through Thursday, heavy rains are expected to unload over southeastern Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula and Belize. Then, southern Florida, the Florida Keys and western Cuba could be in the crosshairs of very heavy rains on Friday and Saturday.

Gusty winds and an ocean surge are also possible in South Florida, assuming a tropical storm forms; environmental conditions are unlikely to support a hurricane.

The evolution of the potential Gulf storm

The developing system will benefit from what remains of Agatha, which made landfall on Monday afternoon near Puerto Ángel on the west coast of southern Mexico. It struck as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 105 mph. Winds from the storm and ocean waves littered roads with debris and caused extensive damage in the coastal towns of Puerto Ángel and Mazunte.

The storm was expected to produce 10 to 20 inches of rain as it moved through high-altitude terrain over the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas on Monday and Tuesday. At least 11 people have died and 20 are missing from the resulting flooding and landslides, according to The Associated Press.

Crossing southern Mexico, Agatha weakened from a hurricane to residual thunderstorms. These remnants are pulled into the Central American Gyre, positioned over the Yucatán Peninsula, the western Caribbean, and the Bay of Campeche in the southern Gulf. The gyre is a general area of ​​counter-clockwise rotation in the atmosphere with showers and thunderstorms.

This rotation is expected to become more concentrated in the coming days as it glides between Cancún and the western tip of Cuba, likely pinching into a new vortex that could become a tropical depression. It is the precursor to a tropical storm. If whatever materializes produces sustained winds of at least 39 mph, he will be named Alex.

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Water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are a degree or two above average, and hostile high-level winds are expected to ease near and south of the low pressure center. This could promote very gradual development and the system could become a tropical storm by early Saturday. Around this time, he should land in South Florida or glide near the Keys.

Much of the heavy rain may occur north of the storm’s center and is expected to arrive over the Florida Straits and southernmost counties of the Florida Peninsula Friday morning. Most of the rain will come out near the Bahamas late Saturday.

The European model simulates 5 to 8 inches of broad rain south of the Caloosahatchee River and Lake Okeechobee, but the US model suggests that localized double-digit totals could be within reach.

The National Weather Service warns that the ground in South Florida is already “somewhat saturated” from several inches of rain over Memorial Day weekend and that additional downpours “could lead to flooding.”

If a tropical storm forms, it can push enough ocean water towards the coast to produce thrust, causing coastal flooding, especially at high tide.

An isolated tornado or waterspout would also be possible in the right front quadrant of the storm or in the area just northeast of the center in any rain squalls.

Longer-term models suggest the storm could parallel the southeast coast and pass near or east of the Gulf Stream and intensify as it sweeps northeast over the North Atlantic open, but confidence for this scenario is low.

The start of the Atlantic hurricane season

June 1 marks the start of the annual Atlantic hurricane season, and atmospheric scientists have warned that 2022 could be the seventh consecutive year of above-normal storm activity. The presence of the La Niña climate pattern, which favors increased upwelling and calm winds aloft favorable to the development of hurricanes, could energize the season.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 14 to 21 named storms — up from 14 in an average year — and three to six major Category 3 or greater hurricanes.

Jason Samenow contributed to this report.

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