Tampa Bay was pelted with bands of rain and occasionally gusty winds from Tropical Storm Gordon on Monday, but Gulf Coast states could be in for worse.
The storm was forecast to become a Category 1 hurricane by the time it makes landfall on the central Gulf Coast Tuesday evening, likely between Mobile and New Orleans, according to the National Hurricane Center.
After forming near the Florida Keys Monday morning and moving west-northwest into the Gulf of Mexico, Gordon brought winds of nearly 50 mph and sometimes heavy rains over Tampa Bay by midday. Scattered showers and thunderstorms were expected to continue through Tuesday as the storm intensified but moved away from central Florida, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Dustin Norman.
If it strengthens, Gordon would become the third hurricane of the 2018 season and the first to form since July 12, when Hurricane Chris dissipated in the Atlantic Ocean, according to Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University.
The last time there was no hurricane between July 13 and Sept. 3, peak season, was in 2013, Klotzbach said.
While the system is expected to bring hurricane winds and rain to the Gulf Coast, the fast 17 mph pace at which the storm was moving gave it less time to strengthen over waters before it is expected to hit land. It had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph late Monday.
"The good news is it’s moving quickly so it doesn’t have a ton of time to intensify," Klotzbach said. "While it doesn’t leave a lot of time for people to prepare, the good news is it doesn’t have time to sit over hot waters."
The Hurricane Center issued storm surge warnings from Shell Beach, La. to the Mississippi border with Alabama. Up to 8 inches of rain was expected to have covered parts of south Florida by Tuesday, with 1 to 2 inches projected around Tampa Bay, according to Norman, the National Weather Service meteorologist.
The storm began as a tropical wave over the Caribbean last week. As it approached the upper Florida Keys, it strengthened and was reclassified.
Although some storm systems have been known to help dissipate Red Tide, it was unclear Monday how the churn from Gordon may affect the toxic algae bloom blanketing 130 miles of the southwest Florida coast.
Meteorologists were also tracking Tropical Storm Florence Monday, which was moving west with sustained winds of nearly 70 mph about 1,400 miles east of the Lesser Antilles islands.
Although Florence’s track is up in the air and is not currently a threat to Florida, "it’s something we’ll definitely be watching," Norman said.
Staff writers Carl Lisciandrello and Justin Trombly contributed to this report. Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.