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Tropical Storm Conditions Possible Along Florida's Gulf Coast on Memorial Day

A tropical storm is likely to form in the Gulf of Mexico by Saturday, potentially strengthening and approaching the Florida Panhandle by Memorial Day.

Heavy rain is almost a certainty across most of Florida at some point this weekend, and newest forecast data suggests other hazards such as coastal flooding, rip currents, damaging wind gusts and water spouts could threaten Gulf coast beaches from Pensacola to Naples. In addition to staying aware of the potential for heavy rain, residents and vacationers in these areas should also prepare for possible tropical storm conditions arriving late Sunday.

The area of interest, referred to by the weather community as Invest 90, was located on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula Thursday afternoon, drifting slowly northward. Satellite data and surface observations indicated that the system was becoming better organized, and in a statement the National Hurricane Center said odds of cyclone formation are now at 90 percent. If the storm acquires a name, it would be called Alberto, the first of the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

The two most reliable forecast models were in general agreement Thursday that Invest 90 would move north into the central Gulf of Mexico by Sunday, then slow down and turn northwest toward central portions of U.S. Gulf Coast on Monday. They were also surprisingly in agreement on the system strengthening into a formidable tropical storm before landfall. It should be noted, however, that before a tropical cyclone develops a closed center of circulation - and this won't likely happen until at least Saturday - forecast data is often not scientifically credible.

An Air Force Reconnaissance plane is scheduled to investigate the disturbance Friday, and special (pre-season) updates will be issued by the National Hurricane Center at least every 12 hours until the system develops.

Regardless of development, we have been advising that heavy rain and potential flooding are the primary hazards with this system. That is still the case statewide. But in addition to those risks, residents and vacationers along the Gulf coast should also prepare for the potential of other tropical-related hazards, such as coastal flooding, rip currents, water spouts, and even damaging wind.The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network will provide frequent updates on this developing weather story all holiday weekend, both on the Florida Storms social media accounts and in the app Florida Storms.


University of Florida Forecaster Bryan Boggiano contributed to this story.

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Jeff Huffman