What Florida should know about the tropical depression heading to the gulf

There are two scenarios to watch for, one specifically affecting Tampa Bay, a meteorologist said.
A satellite image from Saturday shows a tropical system developing off Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula and Tropical Storm Franklin. Forecasters are telling Floridians to watch out for the storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico.
A satellite image from Saturday shows a tropical system developing off Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula and Tropical Storm Franklin. Forecasters are telling Floridians to watch out for the storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. [ Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ]
Published Aug. 26, 2023|Updated Aug. 27, 2023

A tropical depression organized near Mexico’s Yucatán Channel — and forecasters say Floridians should be keeping track of it.

Related: SUNDAY UPDATE: Tropical Storm Idalia forms, may threaten Florida as hurricane

The unnamed system, currently labeled tropical depression 10, is moving “very slowly” north into the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center said in its Saturday afternoon update.

The depression has maximum sustained winds at almost 30 mph and is “nearly stationary,” the hurricane center said in its first storm outlook released at 5 p.m.

It’s not expected to move much Sunday but could strengthen into a tropical storm. On Monday, forecasters said, the system likely will start moving north into the gulf and could start affecting Floridians by the middle of next week.

The storm could develop into a hurricane by Tuesday, according to the hurricane center, and Tampa Bay remains in the potential track.

The agency said it plans to send seven planes on Sunday to collect more data about the storm.

The outlook for Tropical Depression 10 from Saturday afternoon shows it developing into a hurricane by Tuesday.
The outlook for Tropical Depression 10 from Saturday afternoon shows it developing into a hurricane by Tuesday. [ National Hurricane Center ]

West Cuba and the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico are under a tropical storm watch and warning.

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency on Saturday for 33 Florida counties, including Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Manatee, warning of heavy rain, strong winds and tornadoes.

Tampa’s Howard Frankland Bridge is beginning to secure barges, the governor added in an afternoon update. Other construction sites should start to make storm preparations, he said.

The Tampa Bay area might begin to see effects starting Tuesday. While rain would be good for the region — which is currently dealing with a drought — the system could hit when tides are expected to be “astronomically high” causing concerns for flooding, meteorologists said.

If it becomes a named storm, the next name on the 2023 Atlantic hurricane list is Idalia.

The gulf is hot. How strong will it be?

The Gulf of Mexico is typically hot during the peak of hurricane season. But this year, the body of water is experiencing unprecedented heat, which could give more fuel for storms to develop.

Historically, storms forming in the eastern gulf are dangerous for Florida. They can strengthen quickly over the waters, like Hurricane Michael did in 2018. The storm started off the Yucatán Peninsula and made landfall on the state’s Panhandle as a Category 5 hurricane, decimating Mexico Beach.

“There’s definitely going to be a big source of energy for this potential system to develop and strengthen off of,” said Ali Davis, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Tampa Bay.

But a trough in the north is moving down and wind shear would limit strengthening, Davis said.

The different scenarios

Storm models struggled Saturday to agree on the way the storm will likely move because it didn’t have a clear center, said Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist Josh Linker.

So far, there are two scenarios for the storm.

If the system heads toward the Panhandle, Linker said, it could form into a stronger tropical storm or low-category hurricane because it has more time over the gulf’s warm waters.

If it heads closer to the Tampa Bay area, it could be a weaker storm, he said.

“That’s actually not a bad thing,” Linker said. “We have a pretty significant rainfall deficit for the year.”

But one thing to watch out for is tide levels, he added. Coincidentally, the Tampa Bay region is expected to have an “astronomically high tide” next week because of a full moon. St. Petersburg’s high tide on Tuesday afternoon is predicted to be 3 feet above mean levels, Linker said, when high tide is normally a foot above.

“There could very likely be some coastal flooding,” Linker said.

When will Tampa Bay start feeling storm impacts?

Florida’s Gulf Coast could see effects around Tuesday and Wednesday, said Davis, the National Weather Service meteorologist.

The National Hurricane Center forecast released Saturday afternoon now expects the greatest effects could hit the Gulf Coast later in the week, but tropical force winds could arrive as early as Tuesday morning for Tampa Bay.

Residents should listen to any evacuation notices authorities issue, even if it’s a weaker storm, she added. If a tropical storm hits at the right time or angle, it can cause significant flooding, like Tropical Storm Eta did in 2020.

“They may be weaker in terms of the winds they produce, but they are still going to be capable of producing flooding from heavy rainfall and storm surge,” Davis said.

How to prepare

Already, Tampa Bay area governments are preparing for the storm to hit the area next week. St. Petersburg has a sandbag station at the Pavement and Traffic Operations Building at 1744 Ninth Ave. N and is extending its hours this weekend from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The city said it expected to hand out more than 5,000 sandbags Saturday and would open additional sites Sunday and Monday.

The following locations will have self-service sandbags available between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday:

The following full-service locations will have city staff available to fill sandbags between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday and Monday:

The city of Tampa has activated three sandbag distribution sites Sunday, open from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. for seniors and residents with special needs, and from noon for the general public. The locations are:

Residents interested in receiving sandbags must show identification verifying residence within the city limits. A valid driver’s license, utility bill or electric bill will serve as appropriate identification. There is a ten bag limit. The sites will be open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. until further notice.

Pasco County has a 24-hour sandbag station. Clearwater is offering residents a place to drop off household chemicals.

Saturday also marks the beginning of Florida’s sales tax holiday on hurricane supplies, an opportunity for consumers to save money on batteries, flashlights, power banks, generators and other storm prep essentials. The tax break lasts until Sept. 8.

What about the other storms in the Atlantic? Will they affect Florida?

Forecasters are also watching two other disturbances in the Atlantic and Hurricane Franklin.

Franklin — which is heading north toward Bermuda and away from Florida — developed into a hurricane Saturday and could strengthen into a major storm by Tuesday, the hurricane center said.

A system of showers in the Central Atlantic has a medium chance of developing in the next week, the agency said. It’s about 1,000 miles northeast of the northern Leeward Islands and is heading north, also away from Florida.

The last disturbance is a tropical wave forming off Africa’s coast. The hurricane center said it has a low chance of developing during the next week, but it could slowly start forming in the latter half as it heads west across the Atlantic Ocean.

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