Forecasters are expecting an active Atlantic hurricane season in 2018 which could begin as early as the Memorial Day weekend -- the unofficial start of the summer tourist season.
The National Hurricane Center is watching that mass of low pressure, currently off the southeastern Yucatan Peninsula and it’s expected to move northward.
“Confidence has increased that a tropical storm will develop, and it’s likely to be named Alberto by Saturday or Sunday,” said Meteorologist Jeff Huffman with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.
“The system is certainly becoming better organized, so we are going to be dealing with tropical storm heading in the general direction of the Florida Panhandle by early next week,” he said.
Specifics in a tropical disturbance – especially those that are weaker and more disorganized – are difficult to pin down this far out. But the main feature from this system is rain – and a lot of it.
“Flooding is going to be the concern with all the heavy rain; but, depending on the track and the strength of this storm system there could be some other hazards,” Huffman said. “Even a minor storm surge; some coastal flooding, gusty winds and some waterspouts.”
According to the National Hurricane Center's latest update, the chance that a tropical depression will form in the Gulf in the next two to five days is high – in the 70 to 90 percent range. Just how much rain, says Huffman, will depend on the system’s track and speed.
“Generally, I think our entire listening area will see four or more inches of rain, the heaviest falling from Sunday to Tuesday,” said Huffman. “But if the system stalls just inland – which is possible – the rain could continue for many more days after that.”
The National Weather Service in Mobile has issued a flash flood watch for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, from 7:00 p.m. Saturday until 7:00 p.m. Tuesday. Jeff Huffman at F-PREN advises residents to go over their storm plan.
“One, because we have a system we’re paying attention to now; and two, because hurricane season officially begins in a week,” Huffman said. “Don’t discount this system; it is capable of producing more than just heavy rain. It could produce some wind squalls; possibly tropical storm-force winds, it could produce some minor coastal flooding or storm surge. [There are] still too many unknowns with this system at this point.”
Along with the heavy rainfall, thunderstorms are expected to be packing gusty winds, cloud-to-ground lightning and rip currents along area beaches.
“Now’s a good time, at least while the sun is still shining to do those pre-season preparations,” said Huffman. “And maybe think about some things you can do around your house to prepare for this unsettled weather.”
Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting 10 to 16 named storms; with five to nine hurricanes and one to four of those Category-3 or higher. If that forecast holds, 2018 would be considered a near-normal or above-normal season.