Tropical Storm Idalia will threaten the Gulf Coast and Florida this week


According to the National Hurricane Center, the tropical depression is stable and has strengthened into Tropical Storm Italia with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph. It is likely to become a hurricane by Tuesday afternoon and make landfall in Florida early Wednesday morning.

The storm is currently located about 80 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico and moving slowly to the east at 2 mph.

Italia is expected to bring tropical storm conditions to parts of the Yucatan Peninsula and extreme western Cuba today, resulting in tropical storm warnings.

“The storm is expected to strengthen over the next few days and become a hurricane in the eastern Gulf of Mexico by the middle of this week,” the hurricane center said.

Hurricane hunters are scanning Italy for data as the system intensifies.

The hurricane center noted that there is a “significant risk of rapid intensification” as the storm moves over very warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Rapid intensification occurs when a storm’s maximum sustained winds increase to 35 mph or more in 24 hours.

Widespread rainfall amounts of 4-6 inches are expected from Tallahassee to the Outer Banks, with isolated totals of up to 10 inches possible.

Life-threatening storm surge, heavy rain and hurricane-force winds are expected to hit Florida beginning Tuesday. The bulk of the storm is forecast to move over southeast areas on Wednesday.

Who should pay attention? Anyone living in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Cuba and along the northern Gulf and Florida coast should keep an eye on the forecast in the coming days. The direction and strength of the upper-level steering winds around this system will dictate where it moves and how quickly.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Issued an executive order A state of emergency was declared for 33 districts on Saturday ahead of possible inclement weather. “The governor and Florida’s Division of Emergency Management are taking timely precautions to ensure Florida’s communities, infrastructure and resources are prepared, including communities still recovering from Hurricane Ian,” a news release announcing the executive order said.

When will it affect the US? By Monday, the system will enter the Gulf of Mexico and move toward Florida. It will become a hurricane by Tuesday afternoon and hit the west coast of the Florida peninsula by Wednesday.

How strong can it be? It is still too early to tell how strong this system will be or how fast it will strengthen. But it tracks through the warm waters of the entire Atlantic basin — a vast energy source for a developing storm. Exceptionally warm water can provide the fuel necessary for storms to strengthen and sometimes rapidly intensify.

Sea surface temperatures are the warmest on record in the Gulf of Mexico and the hottest across the northwestern Caribbean Sea. Water temperatures must be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit to sustain tropical growth, and parts of the Caribbean and Gulf exceed the threshold.

Constraints to Development: Warm water isn’t the only factor at play. Upper-level winds are also needed for the tropical system to cooperate. Excessive wind shear — a change in wind direction or speed with height — can cut off a developing storm.

How much wind shear this potential system withstands is an important factor in its formation and ultimate strength. A forecast model shows high wind shear limiting its growth. The other shows low air pressure, which allows the system to build up.

Either way, the wind disturbance across the northern Caribbean and eastern Gulf of Mexico is likely to ease early next week, allowing any system to hold together.

Meanwhile, in the Mid-Atlantic, Tropical Storm Franklin strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph, according to a Sunday update from the National Hurricane Center. This was confirmed by aerial reconnaissance by NOAA and Air Force Hurricane Hunters.

Storm Franklin is currently in place 575 miles south of Bermuda and moving relatively slowly to the north-northwest at 8 mph.

“A steady strengthening forecast suggests Franklin may become a major hurricane early next week,” the center said in its update. A major hurricane is defined as a Category 3 or higher with sustained winds of 111 mph.

“Swells developed by Franklin are expected to begin impacting Bermuda by Sunday night,” the hurricane center said, adding, “These swells are likely to rip life-threatening surf and current conditions this weekend into early next week along the U.S. East Coast.”

Small variations in Franklin’s path through the weekend will determine how close it is Bermuda is available at that time Monday and Monday night makes its closest pass.

Franklin’s wind and rain will extend beyond its center. Tropical-storm-force winds are likely across Bermuda early next week as Franklin makes a close approach. A few showers and thunderstorms are possible across Bermuda as Franklin passes.

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