Hurricane forecasters predicted late Friday that Tropical Storm Fay could become a hurricane as it approaches Florida on Monday.
Fay, the sixth tropical storm of the Atlantic season, was expected to reach Cuba today before turning north.
Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center predicted Fay would strengthen into a hurricane in the Florida Straits before it hits the Keys late Monday.
But how it responds to the land masses in its path this weekend will be key to its potential as a dangerous storm.
"The structure of the storm is very good," said Josh Linker, meteorologist for Bay News 9. "If the mountains weren't there and the land wasn't there, this thing would be blowing up into a pretty strong storm already."
The storm brought 45 mph winds to the Dominican Republican on Friday evening as it moved west at about 14 miles an hour.
The hurricane center's models agreed that a huge high-pressure system sitting over Florida will retreat eastward, allowing the storm to curve north along the high's west edge.
But then some models showed the storm barreling toward Florida's east coast, while others sent it into the Gulf of Mexico. The always tenuous five-day forecast projected that the storm would make landfall in southwest Florida on Tuesday afternoon. That path would put it in the Tampa Bay area Tuesday night.
The mountains of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba could tear the storm's structure apart, Linker said. But when it hits the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, the storm could intensify again as it heads for Florida.
"Hopefully, within the next few days, as the storm moves westward, the models will show a better consensus as to where the track will be," said Corey Walton, hurricane support meteorologist at the National Weather Center. "Right now, it's very uncertain."
The storm won't affect this weekend's weather, which will bring scattered thunderstorms to the area.
Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or [email protected]