There is now a 90 percent chance a tropical storm will form in the Gulf of Mexico by Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
And Meteorologist Jeff Huffman says new information today suggests some Florida residents may have more than just heavy rain to deal with.
“Our two most reliable forecast models have trended slower and much stronger with what will likely be named Tropical Storm Alberto this weekend,” Huffman said. “The system is most likely to approach the Florida panhandle by Monday, where I can't rule out other hazards such as coastal flooding, minor storm surge, water spouts, and even tropical storm force winds."
Gov. Rick Scott issued an advisory Thursday that said it’s “absolutely critical that every Florida family is fully prepared for potential impacts” during the Memorial Day weekend from the brewing storm.
Across the state, heavy rain and potential flooding is still in the forecast, even if the storm tracks the west, Huffman said.
“This system will have a large circulation and it is forecast to slow down, so the pipeline of tropical moisture could continue for several days,” he said. “The rain may not be continuous, but the showers and thunderstorms are almost certain to be long-lasting and strong, especially Saturday through Tuesday.”
The system is currently off the southeastern Yucatan Peninsula but it's expected to move northward.
In the Tampa Bay area and elsewhere along the coast, downpours could dampen Memorial Day, the unofficial start of the tourist season.
The tropical threat comes earlier than usual. The six-month hurricane season doesn't begin until June 1.
If the storm becomes a rotating system with 39 mph winds, it would take on the name Alberto and be the first of the 10 to 16 named storms predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this year.
Most of the Florida peninsula has received well-above normal rainfall this month, and several creeks and streams are already prone to flooding. This is especially true across portions of central Florida, where 5 to 10 inches of rain has fallen in the past two weeks, Huffman said. In a hydrological outlook from the National Weather Service in Melbourne, residents were urged to prepare for “the likelihood of flooding rains later this week and into the weekend.”
In addition to possible river flooding, which could occur for several days after the event, the rainfall rates may be high enough to warrant a concern for flash flooding. This is the seemingly sudden rise of water in low-lying areas that can flood roads and homes with little notice.
The system is expected to travel northward toward an area between southeastern Louisiana and the western Florida Panhandle late Sunday or Sunday night. The center of the low is expected to move inland over this area sometime Sunday night or Monday of early next week.
Computer models suggest it will not become a strong storm system. However, it could still generate localized gale-force winds along some coastal areas of the northern and the eastern Gulf of Mexico this weekend. This would also lead to rougher surf and some rise in water levels along west- and south-facing coastal areas especially east of where the center move, perhaps enough to cause some coastal flooding along the west coast of Florida and along the Florida Panhandle coastal areas.