Tropical depression forming over the Bahamas
A tropical wave (Invest 97L) over the eastern Bahama Islands has developed a closed circulation at the surface, and has become a tropical depression or tropical storm. Here is the text of the Special Tropical Weather Outlook from NHC at 8:25am EDT today:
Visible satellite images and observations from the Bahamas indicate that the area of low pressure in the southeastern Bahamas has become better organized and a closed circulation has formed. Advisories on a tropical depression or a tropical storm will be initiated at 11 am EDT...1500 UTC today. This advisory will likely include tropical storm watches and warnings for portions of the Bahamas and southern Florida.
Satellite images of 97L show a modest area of heavy thunderstorms that have slowly increased in intensity and areal coverage this morning. Water vapor satellite loops show a large area of dry air lies to the west of 97L, over Florida. This dry air is associated with a large upper-level low pressure system that is moving west at about the same speed 97L is. The counter-clockwise flow of air around the upper low is bringing about 20 knots of wind shear to 97L. Surface observations in the Bahamas and several nearby ships have shown top winds in 97L of up to 35 mph, so the storm is close to the 40 mph winds needed to be classified as a tropical storm.
Figure 1. Water vapor satellite image showing dry air (brown colors) associated with the upper-level low over Florida. Image credit: NOAA/NESDIS.
Track Forecast for 97L
The storm is in a fairly straightforward steering current environment, and 97L should progress steadily to the west to west-northwest through Saturday. This will bring the storm ashore over the Florida Keys or South Florida on Friday, and into the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday. The latest set of model runs from 2am EDT (6Z) had the advantage of having data from a flight of the NOAA jet last night, so we have higher confidence than usual in the track of 97L over the next two days. The location of 97L's final landfall along the Gulf of Mexico coast has the usual uncertainties for 3 - 4 days, with the various models calling for landfall somewhere between the upper Texas coast and the Florida Panhandle coast. Given the uncertainties, the move halt operations in the Deepwater Horizon blowout recovery effort are probably wise.
Intensity Forecast for 97L
The primary detriment to development of 97L for the next three days will be the presence of the large upper-level low to its west. As long as this low remains in its present location, relative to 97L, it will bring wind shear of about 20 knots and dry air into the storm. This will limit the intensification potential of 97L to no more than about 10 - 20 mph per day. If the upper-level low picks up speed and pulls away from 97L, the storm may be able to intensify at a faster rate. None of the computer models is calling for that to happen, but it is possible. I put the odds of 97L making it to hurricane strength in the Gulf of Mexico at 20%.
An area of disturbed weather (98L) has developed in the Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche. This system is under a low amount of shear, 5 - 10 knots, and may barely have enough time to organize into a tropical depression before making landfall along the Mexican coast a few hundred miles south of the Texas border on Friday.
I'll have an update after NHC releases their 11am advisory package.