Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:32 PM GMT on June 01, 2011
The Atlantic hurricane season is officially underway, and Mother Nature appears to be taking her cue from the calendar, as we have a surprise storm off the coast of Florida that is a threat to develop into a tropical depression later this week, after it crosses Florida into the Gulf of Mexico. An cluster of thunderstorms called a Mesoscale Convective System (MCS) pushed across southern New England early yesterday, emerged over the ocean, and rotated clockwise towards Florida, steered by a large high pressure system centered over Kentucky. The center of the disturbance stayed over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, a region of low pressure developed, and intense thunderstorms began to build yesterday afternoon. Early this morning, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) designated the disturbance Invest 93L, and gave it a 10% chance of developing into a tropical depression. At 8am EDT, they upped those chances to 30%. Invest 93L is becoming increasingly organized, with Melbourne, Florida radar showing the beginnings of some rotation, with a solid band of heavy rain on the southwest side of the disturbance. The pressure is falling and winds are rising at Buoy 41012, 40 nm ENE of St. Augustine, Florida. Winds were 16 mph, gusting to 20 mph, at 8:50am EDT. Satellite imagery shows a small but intensifying region of thunderstorms, with the high level cirrus clouds of 93L already moving over Florida. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are about 26°C (79°F) off the east coast of Florida, which is just warm enough to support formation of a tropical depression, and about 0.5°C above average. Wind shear is a low 5 - 10 knots, and it is likely that 93L will continue intensifying until it makes landfall over Central Florida this afternoon. A 50-mile wide swath of Florida from Daytona Beach to just north of Tampa can expect 1 - 3 inches of rain from 93L as it tracks over the state this afternoon and tonight. I don't believe 93L has enough time to develop into a tropical depression before landfall in Florida, but the coast between Daytona Beach and Cocoa Beach could see wind gusts of 25 - 35 mph.
Figure 1. Morning radar image of 93L from the Melbourne, Florida radar.
Fate of 93L once in the Gulf of Mexico
Since 93L is expected to continue its rapid west-southwest motion at 15 - 20 mph through Thursday, it will cross the Florida Peninsula in about 12 hours and emerge over the Gulf of Mexico early Thursday morning. It is possible that the passage over Florida will greatly disrupt 93L, since it is such a small system. I give a 40% chance that the storm will see its peak strength this afternoon, and not significantly regenerate over the Gulf of Mexico. However, the latest SHIPS model forecast predicts that wind shear will remain low to moderate, 5 - 15 knots, as 93L moves westwards over the Gulf of Mexico Thursday and Friday. SSTs in the Gulf are about 26°C (79°F), 0.5 - 1.0°C above average, and it is possible that 93L could gain enough strength to become Tropical Storm Arlene as it crosses the Gulf. Since 93L will be moving parallel to the coast a short distance offshore, it is difficult to predict where the storm might make a second landfall, since a slight change in heading will make a large difference in landfall location. I don't expect widespread heavy rains from 93L along the Gulf Coast, since the storm is so small, but some locations close to the coast could receive 2 - 4 inches as 93L brushes by. Heavier rains are possible at the eventual landfall location. Since 93L is so small, the computer models are having trouble seeing the system, and are not very helpful forecasting the behavior of the storm over the Gulf of Mexico.
I'll have an update by noon today, when the latest CSU seasonal Atlantic hurricane forecast will be available.
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