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Growing storm heads toward central gulf

A tropical depression may be Hurricane Gordon by Sunday. What's next is unclear.

A tropical depression that was struggling to break into the Gulf of Mexico late Thursday is forecast to be a hurricane in the center of the gulf by Sunday.

Its course after that is uncertain, but a threat to the Tampa Bay area seemed unlikely.

"There is no guidance (computer modeling) bringing the system to Central Florida at this point," said National Hurricane Center specialist Lixion Avila.

But he cautioned: "We don't have a well-defined center of the system right now. As it becomes better organized, we'll know more about what it will do. For now, everybody in the gulf states should monitor the progress of this system."

If the system develops, and no other storm claims the name first, it will be Hurricane Gordon.

Paul Close, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's office in Ruskin, said the system is dragging a large mass of clouds with it, and therefore might bring some rain to Florida. "As of now it looks like the system will stay in the gulf," he said, "but the rain would be welcome."

In the Atlantic, meanwhile, storm warnings were posted in Bermuda as Tropical Storm Florence appeared headed that way.

At 11 p.m. Florence's center was near 29.2 degrees N latitude and 73.0 degrees W longitude, or about 535 miles west-southwest of the small island.

Florence was nearly stationary late Thursday, but was expected to pick up speed today. Maximum sustained winds were only about 45 mph and the storm was not as well organized as before. Nevertheless, Florence could be revitalized, forecasters said. High winds and drenching rains were expected on the island tonight.

"If it follows the forecast track, then they will be right on the edge," said Richard Pasch, a hurricane specialist.

Back in the Gulf of Mexico, the tropical depression's poorly defined center was over Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula near 20.9 degrees N latitude and 88.2 degrees W longitude at 11 p.m. It was moving northwest at about 6 mph, and was expected to hold that course and speed through today.

Once it begins drinking the warm, energy-laden waters in the gulf, however, it may gain strength quickly.

One computer model sees the system heading southwest, into the Bay of Campeche. Forecasters ignored that model, however, and sided with other models that see the storm moving into the central gulf by Sunday.

What the storm will encounter in the central gulf was uncertain late Thursday. A low pressure trough is expected to be dropping south, and if it comes far enough its southwest-to-northeast winds may turn the storm to the northeast.

Forecasters also noted that the system was not aligned vertically, and that a new eye could form well to the east of where the current eye was located. If that should happen, they said, the storm would be more likely to turn to the northeast.