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A powerful tropical system is stirring in the Caribbean on Friday, poised to strengthen significantly as it heads north toward the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasts show the system intensifying into a Category 3 as it approaches Florida next week, where it could become the state’s first major hurricane since 2018.
The system, Tropical Depression Nine, formed early Friday morning over the central Caribbean Sea and is likely to become the next named storm of the season, according to the National Hurricane Center. It would be named Ian when it strengthened to tropical storm status, which it could do as early as Friday evening.
Nine had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph and were about 400 miles southeast of Jamaica on Friday afternoon as they moved west-northwest at 15 mph.
As the system is expected to see a slow strengthening over the next two days, forecasters from the National Hurricane Center have warned rapid intensification is possible – if not likely – as it passes over very warm Caribbean and southeastern Gulf of Mexico waters.
If it strengthens to a Category 3 or more before reaching Florida, it would be the first major hurricane to make landfall there since Hurricane Michael in 2018, which was a monster Category 5 storm when it entered Florida. collision with the Florida Panhandle. Michael also underwent rapid intensification before landfall, a phenomenon that has been made more likely as ocean temperatures warm due to the climate crisis.
Tropical storm-force winds could begin to affect southwest Florida early Tuesday, with a possible landfall Wednesday. The exact time and location of the storm’s landfall in the United States will depend heavily on its final track, which could change in the coming days.
The National Hurricane Center said late Friday that there was still “increased track uncertainty” in the forecast after it entered the Gulf of Mexico, noting that weather patterns had shifted west during the storms. last passes. The latest trajectory forecasts suggest that much of Florida’s Gulf Coast – including the eastern panhandle – could be at risk.
As the forecast intensifies, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday requested federal emergency aid in anticipation of the threat and also declared a state of emergency for 24 counties. Under the state-level emergency order, members of the Florida National Guard will be activated and awaiting orders.
The governor urged those in the potential path of the storm to prepare.
“This storm has the potential to develop into a major hurricane and we encourage all Floridians to be prepared,” DeSantis said in a press release. “We are coordinating with all state and local government partners to monitor the potential impacts of this storm.”
Short term, Nine is expected to bring heavy rains to Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, northern Venezuela and northern Colombia, which could lead to flash flooding and landslides across the islands. The system is then expected to gain strength, intensifying into a tropical storm as it tracks towards Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
A hurricane watch has been issued for the Cayman Islands, including Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. A tropical storm watch has been issued for Jamaica.
Predicted rainfall totals:
- Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao: 1 to 2 extra inches
- Northern Venezuela: 2 to 5 inches
- Northern Columbia: 3 to 6 inches
- Jamaica: 4 to 8 inches with local maximum up to 12 inches
- Cayman Islands: 4 to 8 inches, with local maximum up to 12 inches
- Southern Haiti and southern Dominican Republic: 2 to 4 inches with a local maximum of up to 6 inches
- West, central Cuba: 6 to 10 inches with local highs up to 14 inches
It was a slow start to what was expected to be an above average hurricane season. Only one storm made landfall in US territory, and no hurricanes made landfall or threatened the contiguous United States.
Now, a week after the peak of hurricane season, the tropics appear to have woken up and forecasters fear people have let their guard down.
“After a slow start, the Atlantic hurricane season has picked up speed quickly,” tweeted Colorado State University researcher Phil Klotzbach.
“People tend to let their guard down and think, oh, yeah, we’re out of the woods,” Torres said. “But in reality, the season continues. We are still in September; we still have October. Anything that forms over the Atlantic or the Caribbean is something we need to watch very closely.
The Atlantic hurricane season ends on November 30.
Either way, if you live in the Caribbean, Florida, and other states along the Gulf Coast, pay attention to updated forecasts this weekend through early next week.