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Weather system expected to move into Gulf of Mexico, potentially strengthen

Regardless of development, forecasters say the system could bring heavy rain to the Cayman Islands, Cuba, southern Florida and the Bahamas through the weekend.

Forecasters are watching a patch of weather near Grand Cayman Island that is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico over the next several days and could likely to strengthen into a tropical depression.

Tropical Disturbance No. 1 has a 70 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone over the next two days or so, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 2 p.m. Friday advisory.

Forecasters said the system “has gradually become better defined” as it moves northwest toward Cuba. The system is expected to move slowly over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico by early next week.

If will be called Zeta if it becomes a named storm, matching the farthest the hurricane center has ever gone into the Greek alphabet in naming storms. The only other hurricane season with a Zeta storm was 2005, the most active and destructive on record. The 2020 storm season is compared to that historic Atlantic storm season because of the rapid pace of storm development this year.

Hurricane Epsilon, the 26th named storm of the season, is now in the west-central Atlantic about 300 miles northeast of Bermuda. It was moving north-northwest at 9 mph and no longer a threat to land.

If Zeta forms it would become the 27th named storm of this year, tying 2005′s record. That year, the 26th named storm didn’t form until Nov. 22 and the 27th formed on Dec. 30. But this year’s 27th storm could form in October.

Regardless of how it develops, forecasters say the system could bring heavy rain to the Cayman Islands, Cuba, southern Florida and the Bahamas through the weekend.

Rain chances for the Tampa Bay area are 30 percent on Saturday, 20 percent on Sunday and 10 percent on Monday, according to Spectrum Bay News 9′s forecasters.

The Spectrum Bay News 9 forecast for the next seven days.
The Spectrum Bay News 9 forecast for the next seven days. [ Spectrum Bay News 9 ]

A weakened Epsilon skirted well east of Bermuda on Thursday night, prompting officials to lift a tropical storm warning for the Atlantic island.

Epsilon’s top sustained winds had fallen during the day to 85 mph, dropping it from a Category 2 to a Category 1 storm, according to the hurricane center in Miami.

Gradual weakening of the hurricane is expected into the weekend. But large ocean swells could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions along the coast of New England and Atlantic Canada during the next couple of days, the hurricane center warned.

Earlier in the week, Epsilon had gained 50 mph in wind speed in just 24 hours to become a major hurricane on Wednesday. That officially qualified it as a rapidly intensifying storm. It was the seventh storm this season to power up so quickly, reaching Category 3 status at one point.

Over the past couple decades, meteorologists have been increasingly worried about storms that blow up from nothing to a whopper, just like Epsilon. Forecasters created an official threshold for this dangerous rapid intensification — a storm gaining 35 mph in wind speed in just 24 hours.

This year’s season has had so many storms that the hurricane center has turned to the Greek alphabet after running out of official names. The last time that happened was also in 2005.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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