The Tampa Bay region should brace for strong storm surge, gusty winds and periods of heavy rain from a system, now Tropical Storm Nestor, that intensifed on Friday as it speeds across the Gulf of Mexico on a path toward the Florida Panhandle.
A storm surge warning remains in effect for Clearwater Beach to the north as Nestor, which formed Friday just before 2 p.m., will cause waters to rise 2-4 feet. It will reach its highest levels during high tide late Friday or early Saturday, according to the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.
Some areas in the Tampa Bay region could experience rain from the outer bands of the storm Friday afternoon, with the heaviest rain from later in the night into Saturday morning.
“Rain bands and tropical storm force wind gusts will arrive to the Emerald and Forgotten Coasts by (Friday) evening,” said Megan Borowski, a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network. “The greatest storm surge and heaviest rain will then spread across the Big Bend, Nature Coast and St. Pete areas overnight.”
The region also is in a "favorable spot" for a few tornadoes if Nestor continues on its current track.
"Most of the area's going to be on the right hand side of the storm, and that's where the vertical wind shear in the lower part of the atmosphere tends to be favorable for some spin-ups," FPREN meteorologist Ray Hawthorne said. "We're not looking at widespread tornadoes, but certainly there could be a few, and the best chance of that happening is sometime around 3 to 4 in the morning at the earliestm lasting until about early Saturday afternoon at the latest for areas just inland."
As of Friday at 2 p.m., Nestor was located about 355 miles southwest of Panama City and racing northeast at 22 mph. Maximum sustained winds have climbed 60 mph, with higher gusts.
"Winds are going to be up somewhere between about 20 and 35 miles per hour," Ray Hawthorne said. "The strongest winds will be right along the coastline sections. It is possible, as these squalls come on in, especially after midnight (Friday), that we could see some brief wind gusts close to tropical storm force especially right along the coastline in areas that are wide open."
A tropical storm warning is in effect for Yankeetown to the north – including the Florida Panhandle – as the system will gain speed and approach the northern Gulf Coast later today or tonight, according to the National Weather Service.
Some areas from the central Gulf Coast and northern and central Florida could see as much as 2-4 inches of rain, along with strong gusts and dangerous surf, by the time the storm leaves the state Saturday night.
“It’s Saturday morning when I expect the center of the storm to move ashore, and this is when the periods of heavy rain, gusty winds, and threat for isolated tornadoes will move further inland and across central and northeast Florida,” Borowski said.
Once the storm moves through, high pressure will filter into the Tampa Bay region and produce cooler, drier air on Sunday and Monday.