The only thing that seems certain is that Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine will soon strengthen into Tropical Storm Isaias.
There is a 90 percent chance that it will grow into a tropical storm in the next 48 hours, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 11 p.m. Tuesday advisory. The latest storm track shows the tropical storm reaching the Tampa Bay region on Sunday night.
But there is a high degree of uncertainty surrounding the current forecast, storm track and intensity — whether it still stay a tropical storm or gain hurricane strength.
“The intensity and the track forecast are highly problematic and there is still a great deal of uncertainty with the model spread,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Davis.
Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine/Tropical Storm Isaias is a reminder that we are in the midst of a hyper-active Atlantic hurricane season and the peak is approaching. It’s never too late to get ready for this or any other storm that will actually threaten the bay area.
The 11 p.m. forecast was produced “within the middle of the consensus,” Davis said, but the reality is that “confidence is low” in any prediction of the storm’s actual trajectory and future strength more than two days from now.
If the storm continues to pass over land as currently forecast — the Leeward Islands on Wednesday, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico that night, then Thursday over Hispaniola — that could keep the storm from strengthening beyond a tropical storm.
But if its track were to change, if it were to spend more time over the water, then it could gain intensity and perhaps even reach hurricane strength. But where would it go?
“The scenarios are abundant,” Davis said.
The 11 p.m. advisory, which will likely change within the next day or two, shows the storm passing over or just east of the Tampa Bay area by 8 p.m. Sunday. The entire Florida peninsula is now under the cone of uncertainty.
Tropical storm warnings were issued for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Hispaniola on Tuesday, which are expected to get 3 to 6 inches of rain. Puerto Rico could see upwards of 10 inches in certain areas, the hurricane center warned, and tropical storm showers could flood rivers and raise the risk of flash flooding and mudslides.
“It’s definitely something we’re going to be tracking all week and into the weekend,” said Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez earlier Tuesday about the system. “What we’ll be looking for is if it will be south of us near Cuba or if it will turn east of Florida.”
It was located 435 miles east of the Leeward Islands, according to the hurricane center’s 11 p.m. advisory, moving west-northwest at nearly 25 mph and generating sustained winds of 40 mph and stronger wind gusts. Tropical storm-force winds were reaching 230 miles from the center of the storm.
The advisory said that the long-range track and intensity of the storm are still unclear. It’s battling dry air to the north, but more favorable conditions for the storm to strengthen are expected in the coming days.
Computer forecast models show the system gradually turning north as it moves across the Atlantic. Several models show the system turning east toward the Atlantic before reaching Florida and traveling up the east coast, while others show it approaching the state by early next week.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hurricane Hunter flight into the storm on Tuesday afternoon detected tropical storm-level winds. Researchers did not, however, find closed circulation, which means it hasn’t risen to the level of tropical storm just yet.
If the system does form into a tropical storm it would be named Isaias, which is pronounced “ees-ah-EE-ahs,” according to the hurricane center.
It would be earliest in the season that a storm starting with the letter “I” has formed, according to Colorado State meteorologist Philip Klotzbach. The current record is Aug. 7, 2005 when Tropical Storm Irene formed.
Colorado State University’s updated seasonal forecast which published earlier this month, and called for 20 named storms, nine hurricanes and four major hurricanes this season. That’s significantly more than the average of 12, six and three. The forecast came before the recent formation of Tropical Storm Gonzalo and Hurricane Hanna last week.
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2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
PREPARE FOR COVID-19 AND THE STORM: The CDC’s tips for this pandemic-hurricane season
PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Protect your home, business, documents and photos
BUILD YOUR KIT: The gear you need to stay safe from the storm — and COVID-19
PROTECT YOUR PETS: A veterinarian on protecting pets from the storm and virus
NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter