The first official day of hurricane season kicked off Wednesday with forecasters keeping a close eye on a storm system that had killed at least 11 people in Mexico and now could recharge over the Gulf of Mexico and stagger to Florida by the weekend.
The Tampa Bay area on Wednesday remained in the sights of what could become the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Alex, should forecasters’ predictions hold. The National Hurricane Center put the chances of that happening by Friday afternoon at 70%. They give it an 80% chance of happening in the days after, according to their forecast advisory at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
The system, which had been called Hurricane Agatha when it was earlier in the Pacific Ocean, set off flooding and landslides in the southern Mexican state of Oxaca. In addition to the 11 known dead, at least 33 other people were missing, Gov. Alejandro Murat said Wednesday.
More than 40,000 people in the state have been affected, primarily along the coast and in the mountains just beyond, Murat said.
Agatha was the strongest hurricane since records have been kept to come ashore in May in the eastern Pacific. It made landfall Monday afternoon on a sparsely populated stretch of small beach towns and fishing villages as a strong Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, but it quickly lost power moving inland over the mountainous interior.
However, the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico could help the system gather itself back together.
“Despite strong upper-level winds, gradual development is forecast and this system is likely to become a tropical depression while it moves slowly northeastward over the northwestern Caribbean Sea and southeastern Gulf of Mexico during the next day or two,” the hurricane center said in its 2 p.m. advisory Wednesday.
Forecasters have said Floridians, including those in the Tampa Bay area, should keep an eye on the system. As of Wednesday afternoon, Tampa Bay remained in an area that forecasters said could be impacted by the system by as soon as late Friday, though on the north portion of it. The area that could be impacted also included the Florida Keys and Cuba, so there was some uncertainty about where the storm would head.
Forecasters also were monitoring a system northeast of the Bahamas on Wednesday that they say had little chance of strengthening.
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