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Potential tropical system in Caribbean could head toward Florida, break up Red Tide

The National Hurricane Center is currently tracking a disturbance near Central America (the yellow X) that could develop into a tropical system and head towards Florida. Forecasters, however, say it is to early to tell where it will wind up or whether it will organize into a stronger system. [National Weather Service]
Published Oct. 5, 2018

The 2018 hurricane season is nearing its end, but Florida might not be out of the proverbial moisture-laden woods just yet.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service are currently tracking a disturbance off the east coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua that has a chance of organizing into a tropical depression over the next five days.

"The organization of the system is very gradually increasing," forecaster Tony Hurt said. "But the models are hinting at possible development as we head into next week."

While one doesn't usually hope for messy systems to make their way to Florida, it could actually be a blessing for coastal areas still reeling from one of the worst Red Tide blooms in Florida history.

The Red Tide bloom still surrounds the three coasts of Florida, wrapping itself around the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and spreading across the panhandle. Near Pinellas shores, winds from the east have blown the bloom offshore, but it remains a threat. Should the Central American disturbance make its way over the Gulf of Mexico and hit the bloom, it could break it up and bring relief to the many beach communities that have seen significant downturns in business as locals and tourists shy away from beaches laden with dead fish.

As previously reported to the Times by oceanographer Richard Stumpf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one natural disaster can sometimes spell doom for another. The Red Tide bloom of 2005 persisted until Hurricane Katrina came along.

"It was broken up by Hurricane Katrina," Stumpf told the Times in September. "That's the only good thing we got out of Katrina."

RELATED: Another reason Florida's Red Tide is so bad this year: Pollution from the Mississippi River

The possibility of that happening this year, however, remains a big "if," according to forecasters.

Hurt said it's too early to tell if the disturbance will form into a tropical system and, if so, how strong it will be or where it will go. The likelihood of formation, though, has doubled over the last 24 hours. As of Thursday, the disturbance had a 30 percent chance of organizing into a tropical system over the next five days. On Friday, that chance was 60 percent.

Regardless of how it forms, Hurt said the system could bring big rains. Right now it's hammering Central America as it heads into the Gulf of Honduras and over the Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba. From there, it's expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico where it could bring plenty moisture to Florida.

History, it seems, errs on the side of likely formation. This late in the season, Hurt said, systems often form in the Caribbean and head into the Gulf of Mexico. Looking at the historical record going back to 1851, he said, Florida has often been impacted by late-season storms that develop in the Caribbean during October.

Meanwhile, in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Leslie is sending strong surf swells to parts of the eastern U.S. but is expected to remain off the coast.

Contact Daniel Figueroa IV at dfigueroa@tampabay.com. Follow @danuscripts.

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