The tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico that’s projected to strengthen as it approaches Florida could put a crimp ― or much worse ― in Tampa Bay’s weekend plans.
National Hurricane Center issued a storm surge warning on Thursday from Indian Pass to Clearwater Beach ahead of the still-unnamed disturbance’s predicted landfall somewhere in north Florida this weekend. A tropical storm warning was issued for the Panhandle east to the Aucilla River.
The disturbance, which was moving north-northeast at 9 mph through the gulf, is projected to become a tropical or subtropical storm by Friday morning. It had sustained wind speeds near 45 miles per hour and was 570 miles southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River as of the hurricane center’s 5 p.m. Thursday bulletin.
Rain will likely be the Tampa Bay region’s biggest threat from the disturbance, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Austen Flannery in the Ruskin office.
“The biggest concern for everybody here will be heavy rain,” Flannery said. “It’s a messy, disorganized system that will bring heavy rainfall and localized flooding.”
The storm’s 9 mph speed means it’s moving fast — a good sign for the bay area, Flannery noted, as that should limit flooding.
As for wind: The system is projected to bring its strongest winds to the bay area Friday night through Saturday afternoon, said meteorologist Rick Davis.
Residents may want to chuck their outdoor plans and come up with some indoor ones, he said, but added: "Outdoor events and plans are probably fine on Sunday.”
Tampa Bay is expected to experience winds of 20 to 25 miles per hour with gusts that could reach 35 to 40 mph or even higher if a strong thunderstorm comes this way.
Forecasters predict the storm will approach the northern Gulf Coast on Friday night before moving over portions of the southeastern U.S. on Saturday. Tropical storm warnings were also issued Thursday afternoon for Alabama and Mississippi’s coasts.
The storm is expected to turn toward the northeast Thursday night, and a northeastward motion at a faster forward speed is expected on Friday and Saturday. On the forecast track, the system will approach the northern Gulf Coast on Friday.
If the system were to develop into a tropical or subtropical storm, it would be named Nestor.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” the hurricane center said in its 5 p.m. advisory. “Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions. Promptly follow evacuation and other instructions from local officials.”
At this point, no models suggest the system would develop into anything stronger than a tropical storm, with winds between 38-74 mph. But, Davis said, similar systems in the northeast Gulf of Mexico in the past have spawned tornadoes in the bay area.
Even if the system doesn’t develop, Davis said, it’s going to bring strong, gusty, southwest winds that would push higher than normal tides in the area — probably 1-2 feet around Tampa Bay and higher amounts up north. Beach erosion, high waves and rip currents also are likely over the weekend.
Times staff writer Frank Pastor contributed to this report.