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Disorganized Fred Continues To Be a Difficult Storm To Forecast

Tropical Depression Fred remained disorganized Friday, and the National Hurricane Center (NHC) says forecast confidence continues to be "lower-than-normal".

Residents of Florida near the Gulf Coast from Pensacola to Key West are still at risk of some coastal impacts from Fred such as high winds and surge. However, the more widespread hazard for all Floridians, including those that live inland and near the Atlantic Coast is periods of heavy rain, potential flooding and possible tornadoes. The flood risk is greatest from the Forgotten Coast to the Nature Coast, where 3 to 6 inches of rain may fall depending on how close Fred tracks. A second area of heavy rain and potential flooding will occur in South Florida Saturday as Fred's outer rain bands persist during its journey through the Straits of Florida.

Fred's fragmented center of circulation is now moving due west, skirting the island of Cuba and being hindered by wind shear (varying speeds and direction with height). The storm has also slowed in forward motion over the past 24 hours, and interactions with land have unraveled many of the rain bands or thunderstorms from the center. A somewhat more favorable environment for intensification awaits the season's sixth named storm in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, but only if it can navigate the Straits of Florida and the Florida Keys Saturday cohesively. Forecasters at the NHC have also noted that recent model guidance suggests a center re-formation may occur, which could further complicate the forecast.

As of 5 pm EDT Friday, the official NHC forecast track of Tropical Depression Fred includes a shift to the left (or west) and much later turn to the north compared to recent advisories. The intensity forecast also now calls for more strengthening prior to landfall in the Florida Panhandle, which would be more likely to occur Monday given the slower near-term motion and more westward track.

None of the complications surrounding Fred's forecast are a surprise, according to the NHC's Senior Hurricane Specialist Dan Brown. In his 5 pm forecast discussion, he noted that "model shifts" are common with disorganized systems and reminded users not to focus on the exact forecast track. He further stated that hazards such as heavy rainfall, gusty winds and a chance of tornadoes are still likely to occur in Florida, despite the recent shift.

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Jeff Huffman