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 , 5:21 PM GMT on June 05, 2013
Tropical disturbance 91L in the Southeast Gulf of Mexico has gotten more organized over the past day, and the Hurricane Hunters are scheduled to fly their first mission of 2013 this afternoon to see if the storm is becoming a tropical depression. Buoy 42003 near the heaviest thunderstorms of 91L measured sustained winds of 33 mph, gusting to 41 mph this morning at 2 am EDT. Satellite loops show a lopsided storm, with a large area of heavy thunderstorms on the east side of a center of circulation that is trying to develop at the edge of a region of dry air that covers the entire Central and Western Gulf of Mexico. This dry air is due to a trough of low pressure whose upper level winds are also creating moderate wind shear of 15 - 20 knots. Wind shear is forecast to rise to the high range, by Thursday, and 91L is forecast to make landfall along the northern Gulf Coast of Florida on Thursday evening, so the system has a short window of time to intensify. NHC is giving the disturbance a 50% chance of developing into a tropical cyclone. I put these odds higher, at 60%. If it does develop, it will be difficult for 91L to get any stronger than a 45 mph tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico. Regardless of whether or not 91L develops into a tropical depression, heavy rains will be the storm's main threat. A swath from Florida to New England can expect 2 - 4" of rain. A few isolated EF-0 tornadoes will also be possible along the northern Florida Gulf Coast. A storm surge of 1 - 3 feet is predicted for Cedar Key, Florida, and rip currents will be a risk for swimmers who brave the high surf. Fort Pickens, located in Gulf Islands National Seashore on a barrier island offshore from Pensacola, Florida, has been closed to visitors due to the approaching storm. A single 2-lane road vulnerable to storm surges runs to Fort Pickens. Officials want to prevent a repeat of the situation that occurred in September 2011, when Tropical Storm Lee pushed a storm surge over the road that blocked it with sand and debris, trapping numerous campers and visitors in Fort Pickens.
The storm is getting caught up in a trough of low pressure that will pull it quickly to the north-northeast beginning on Thursday, with the center expected to move over coastal North Carolina on Friday afternoon, and over Massachusetts on Friday night. If 91L does manage to become a tropical storm before making landfall on Thursday, it will quickly degenerate into a regular extratropical low pressure system before moving up the East Coast.
Figure 1. Latest satellite image of Invest 91L.
Figure 2. Predicted precipitation for the 7-day period ending June 12, 2013 from the NWS/NCEP. A swath of 2 - 4" of rain is expected from Florida to New England from 91L.
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