Portions of the Tampa Bay coastline are under a storm surge watch as a potential tropical system that is making its way east across the Gulf of Mexico is forecast to produce a rainy, gusty weekend.
Areas from Clearwater to Indian Pass in Gulf County are under the storm surge watch, according to the National Weather Service. A tropical storm warning is in effect from the Mississippi/Alabama border to Ochlockonee River, and a tropical storm watch in effect east of the river to Yankeetown, and further inland – including Big Bend and Nature Coast.
As of Thursday at 2 p.m., Potential Tropical Cyclone Sixteen was located about 600 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River and moving north at 7 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph with higher gusts, and is expected to turn northeast later in the day.
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The system is tracking to the northeast over the western Gulf of Mexico, and forecasters expect it to develop into a tropical or subtropical storm later sometime on Thursday and approach the northern Gulf Coast on Friday and Friday night.
If it does intensify into a tropical storm, it would be named Nestor.
“The worst conditions are expected Friday night and early Saturday, near where the center is most likely to come ashore in the panhandle,” said Jeff Huffman, a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network. “But this will NOT be a traditional tropical system, like a hurricane.”
The heaviest rain is likely to occur in the Tampa Bay area from late Friday into early Sunday, Huffman said. The heaviest rain bands are expected between Panama City and Cedar Key as the system nears the coast Saturday afternoon before moving swiftly to the northeast.
About 2-4 inches of rain could fall in the Panhandle, and as much as 5 inches is possible, along with the potential for localized flooding and a “marginal” risk for tornadoes in some parts of central and northern Florida.
“The heavy rain bands and tornado risk will spread far from the center, affecting a large portion of the peninsula too,” Huffman said. “And there’s a potential storm surge of up to 5 feet from Tampa to Apalachicola.”
Coastal areas can expect gusty winds and rough surf in addition to the potentially strong downpours, forecasters said.
Warm sea surface temperatures could allow for further organization and strengthening. However, those same winds are also expected to produce wind shear that could limit the extent of intensification before it reaches land, according to the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.
This tropical system will not exhibit the traditional characteristics of a traditional storm or hurricane. The potential impacts, although not as severe, will likely spread far from the storm’s likely path. The highest storm surge levels and greatest tornado risk could occur more than 100 miles from the storm’s center of circulation, forecasters said.
Information from the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network was used in this report.