The National Hurricane Center is juggling a rare June double threat in the tropics as the 2017 storm season gets off to a swift start that could send torrential rains into Gulf Coast states.
A broad area of low pressure near the Yucatan Peninsula is expected to become a tropical storm before it makes landfall midweek along the coast of Louisiana or Texas, while Tropical Storm Bret was named Monday southeast of the Windward Islands.
The National Hurricane Center identified the Yucatan system as a “potential tropical cyclone,” a new designation this year that allows it to begin issuing watches and warnings before a formal tropical storm forms. While the Yucatan system had tropical storm-force winds Monday, it did not have a well-defined center of circulation.
“It’s to get the word out that even though it hasn’t developed, the hurricane center is confident it will and that it will impact a land area,” said Cody Lindsey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mobile, Ala., about the new designation.“Hopefully, it will just help make people more aware.”
As of 5 p.m. Monday, a tropical storm warning was in effect from Intracoastal City, La., to the mouth of the Pearl River along the Mississippi border. A tropical storm watch was in effect for west of Intracoastal City to High Island, Texas.
If the system becomes a tropical storm, it would be named Cindy.
Regardless of development, the Gulf Coast is bracing for up to 8 inches of rain in areas from the Florida Panhandle to Texas as the disturbance sends a deep tropical plume into the Gulf of Mexico. A flash flood watch is in effect through Thursday for areas as far east as Tallahassee.
“It’s just going to be a prolonged period of heavy rain from Tuesday into Thursday,” Lindsey said. “It’s already been pretty wet here with 5 to 10 inches falling recently, so the soil is saturated.”
National Hurricane Center forecasters identified Tropical Storm Bret after an Air Force hurricane-hunter mission found a well-defined closed circulation after “much effort.”
The initial wind speed was just 40 mph — 1 mph higher than the 39 mph needed to be a tropical storm — and forecasters are not expecting Bret to strengthen much. Instead, its window of opportunity is closing and it could dissipate below a tropical storm within 36 hours.
If the potential tropical cyclone near the Yucatan gains tropical storm-status, it will be only the fourth time on record that two concurrent named storms formed in June, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.
The previous years were 1909, 1959 and 1968. Of the three years, only 1909 was considered active, Klotzbach said. It had 11 named storms, six hurricanes and four major hurricanes.
Bob Henson, a meteorologist and blogger for Weather Underground, said although June 1 is the official beginning of hurricane season, storms typically begin to ramp up in July and then peak in August and September as the tropical and subtropical Atlantic waters warm.
“On average, you’re going to see more tropical systems in July, August, and September than in June, mainly for that reason,” Henson said.
Also noteworthy is how far into the deep tropical Atlantic and near the equator Bret formed. On Monday afternoon, the system was at just 9.4 North latitude.
“On record, there have only been three tropical systems to form this far south in the central Atlantic during June,” said AccuWeather hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski.
Bret is the earliest tropical storm to form in this area of the Atlantic since official records began in 1851, according to AccuWeather.