Florida beaches may feel Florence, but it’s that other system …


Beaches from Florida through the Carolinas could see high surf and rip currents beginning this weekend as Hurricane Florence rides the underbelly of the Bermuda high on a slow trek west.

The National Hurricane Center warned of “life threatening” conditions along portions of the East Coast from long period swells rippling ahead of the storm, which blindsided forecasters when it strengthened to a major hurricane this week.

While the path of a now-weakened Florence was still a puzzle Thursday, it’s expected to regain Category 3 muscle as it nears Bermuda, putting meteorologists on edge that a powerful hurricane could be off the U.S. East Coast late next week.

“It’s going to be a formidable storm,” said Weather Company meteorologist Dale Eck, who is head of forecast operations for the Americas. “We can cross our fingers and hope it will only be a close call, but it will definitely be some type of threat.”

RELATED: Hurricane peak season is here, what to expect

And it’s not the only one out there. Two tropical waves that rolled off Africa behind Florence could graduate to tropical depressions this weekend. Because they are brewing at lower latitudes than Florence, meteorologists said there is a higher likelihood for them to take a more traditional September path into the Caribbean.

The first wave, dubbed Invest 92L, has an 80 to 90 percent chance of forming over the next two to five days. It’s followed by a wave with a 60 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next five days.

If they become tropical storms, they’ll be named Helene and Isaac.

“If I were in Florida, I’d be more concerned about 92L than Florence,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground. “This is the time of year when you get these Cape Verde-type systems forming that are the greatest danger to Florida.”

Peak hurricane season runs from about mid-August through mid-October with the week of Sept. 15 amassing the most storms climatologically.

On Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it will reduce harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St. Lucie Estuary and Caloosahatchee River beginning Friday, but added that that decision could change depending on the tropics.

Heavy rain from a tropical system can push the lake to unsafe levels, risking a breach in the Herbert Hoover Dike. The lake was 14.66 above sea level on Thursday.

“What happens with those storms in the Atlantic could make things change significantly,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, Jacksonville district deputy commander for the Corps.

RELATED: Lake Okeechobee on “dangerous rise” into peak hurricane season

Florence, which became the third hurricane of the season on Tuesday, quickly strengthened Wednesday to a Category 4 storm despite forecasts that had it weakening as it battled wind shear in the far off Atlantic.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, Florence was a Category 1 hurricane about 1,100 miles east-southeast of Bermuda and heading northwest at 10 mph.

Its future will be determined in part by how much power it gains through early next week. The official hurricane center forecast has it mustering Category 4 vigor with 120 mph winds by Tuesday.

If Florence builds back to a major hurricane, its towering cloud tops will be steered by upper level winds that could tug it northwest and away from the U.S. If it stays weak, it may travel more with the trade winds, sending it farther west toward the mid-Atlantic.

There’s also a chance that an area of high pressure that is expected to move over the East Coast will weaken and Florence will zip north between it and the Bermuda high.

RELATED: Four hurricane graphics you should know before a storm hits

“The situation is very questionable right now,” said AccuWeather hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski. “But anyone living from the Carolinas to New Jersey should be aware that this could come their way.”

The Jacksonville office of the National Weather Service is forecasting an elevated risk of rip currents over the weekend and possible into next week from Florence. NWS Miami meteorologists don’t believe a Florence swell will reach South Florida until Wednesday, which could increase rip current dangers.

Hurricane hunter airplanes are forecast to begin flying into Florence on Monday.

After a tepid hurricane season through August, September “just threw the switch on,” Eck said.

“Not only have we seen Gordon and Florence, there are still waves in the tropics that are waiting to come and give us some headaches this month,” he said.

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