Tampa Bay is squarely in the latest forecasted path of the tropical system that is churning toward Florida.
Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine is expected to strengthen into Tropical Storm Isaias — perhaps in a matter of hours, or as late as Thursday — according to the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. advisory.
Forecasters adjusted the system’s projected path from Tuesday’s forecast, moving the storm slightly east. Tampa Bay remains close to the center in the cone of uncertainty’s path. The storm is predicted to make landfall in Florida on Saturday, reach the bay area by Sunday and pass by on Monday. If the system does make landfall in Florida, it would become the first named storm of the 2020 hurricane season to do so.
Spectrum Bay News 9 Meteorologist Josh Linker said heavy tropical rains are the most likely consequence facing the bay area. But the path of the storm is still uncertain, and a lot can happen in the coming days.
“When you look at the track, it’s important not to overly worry about it,” Linker said. “I know what you’re saying, ‘this is headed right toward Florida,’ but there are a couple of things that this has going against it:
“There’s wind shear, there’s some dry air, it’s not well organized and it’s about to interact with some of these very mountainous islands.”
The 5 p.m. advisory said that the storm will likely weaken briefly while passing over the mountainous islands of the Caribbean, but will regain strength in the warm waters of the Florida Straits ahead of a possible weekend landfall. No current models show the system reaching Category 1 hurricane strength.
The storm was traveling northwest at 23 mph with sustained winds of 45 mph, according to the 5 p.m. advisory. It was set to pass over Puerto Rico on Wednesday night.
While still days away from a potential landfall with Florida, Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine is already making its presence felt in the state.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management announced Wednesday that all state-run COVID-19 testing sites would be closed Friday through Tuesday as the state prepares for the storm. The agency announced the closures in an email to all testing site managers.
The email said it expects most sites to reopen next Wednesday, “pending any damage and vendor timelines.”
The system remained a trough of low pressure with a weak center of circulation as of the hurricane center’s 5 p.m. advisory.
The system already has tropical-storm level winds — above 39 miles per hour — but multiple National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hurricane Hunter missions have failed to find a closed circulation in its center, which is why it hasn’t been officially declared a tropical storm.
Still, strong winds pose a hazard to those in the storm’s path, with a wind gust of 51 mph being recorded on the Caribbean Island of Sint Maarten on Wednesday.
“There is wind shear coming at it from a couple of different directions and it’s really having a hard time developing one unique center,” Linker said. “It’s not well organized in that regard.”
If Isaias forms, it would be the fifth named storm to form in July. That would tie a 2005 record, which is the last time five Atlantic named storms formed in July.
Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine is the latest sign that the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season could be one of the most active in history.
While Saharan dust regularly subdued storms at the beginning of the month, Colorado State University’s July forecast still called for 20 named storms, nine hurricanes and four major hurricanes this season. August through October is typically the most active three months of the season.
Tampa Bay — whether or not Isaias/Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine makes landfall — has a wet weekend in store regardless, Linker said. Saturday will be the slightly drier of the two days, he said. But if a tropical storm does reach the bay area, it will likely soak the region on Sunday.
“This is not going to be a significant tropical developing situation that we’re going to have to contend with,” he said. “That’s the good news.”
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2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
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