Tropical Depression 13 formed late Wednesday night in the mid-Atlantic and will likely become Tropical Storm Laura on Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The early models show the storm is bound for the Sunshine State and could reach the southwest coast of Florida on Monday. The Tampa Bay region is in the cone of uncertainty, but forecasters said this track could change and it’s still too soon to know how strong the storm will get.
Meantime, forecasters say a system in the Caribbean Sea is likely to become a tropical depression Thursday.
The hurricane center announced the system’s development in its 11 p.m. advisory. As of then, the system had sustained winds of 35 mph. If it generates winds of 39 mph, it would become classified as Tropical Storm Laura, the 13th named storm of what has been an extremely active hurricane season.
The intensity of the depression had not increased as of Thursday’s 8 a.m. advisory but forecasters had nudged its projected path slightly to the south. The hurricane center noted disagreement in forecast models, some showing the system dissipating and others showing it strengthening into a major hurricane within five days.
The system was located about 800 miles east of the Northern Leeward Islands and moving west-northwest at 20 mph. Forecasters expect it to stay generally on this course as it builds to tropical storm strength.
The depression is expected to pass near the Leeward Islands by late Friday, then near or north of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Saturday. The government of the Netherlands issued a Tropical Storm Watch for Saba and St. Eustatius, two of its overseas territories in the Caribbean Sea. Tropical storm watches were also in effect for portions of the Leeward Islands.
The depression is expected to produce 1 to 3 inches of rain with isolated maximum totals of 5 inches through Sunday over the northern Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico, according to the Hurricane Center.
“It’s still fairly disorganized for now but it’s something we’ll have to keep an eye on the next couple of days,” Spectrum Bay News 9 Chief Meteorologist Mike Clay said Wednesday afternoon. “Some of the models do not develop this, not all of them develop it, but some of them do and certainly show a threat getting into the Gulf or up to Florida.”
Tropical Depression 13 has company in the Atlantic — it’s the first of three systems to strengthen. Two other systems, referred to by the hurricane center as “Disturbance 1″ and “Disturbance 3,” also have a chance of growing stronger in the coming days.
Disturbance 1, located in the Caribbean Sea, has a 90 percent chance of formation in the next couple of days. It’s expected to bring heavy rain to a large portion of the Yucatan Peninsula and southeastern Mexico in the next few days.
Disturbance 3 over western Africa near Sierra Leone has a 40 percent chance of formation in the next five days.
After Laura, the next names on the rapidly depleting list of 2020 Atlantic storms are Marco and Nana.
This is the earliest that 11 named storms have formed in the Atlantic, according to modern records. Forecasters predict this could be an active hurricane season because warm Atlantic waters will help fuel storms and wind shear is too weak to disrupt their formation.
Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report.