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Tropical system forms that could threaten the Gulf Coast and Florida next week

Tropical Depression Ten has formed near the Yucatan Peninsula in the western Caribbean, according to the National Hurricane Center, and it could become a hurricane by Tuesday afternoon that would make landfall in Florida as early as Wednesday.

A tropical storm warning has been issued for the Yucatan in Mexico from Tulum to Rio Lagartos, including Cozumel. A tropical storm watch has also been issued for the western tip of Cuba in the provinces of Pinar Del Rio and the Isle of Youth.

The system is developing as what was Tropical Storm Franklin has strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane in the Atlantic.

The depression is expected to strengthen into a tropical storm on Sunday as it meanders in the Yucatan Channel. By Monday, the system will begin moving north, entering the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm is expected to further strengthen on Monday and Tuesday as the system crosses the Gulf, moving towards Florida. The official track calls for the storm to become a hurricane by Tuesday afternoon in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and make landfall along the western coast of the Florida Peninsula by Wednesday.

The forecast cone stretches from Tampa Bay to Panama City, and the NHC notes that “that there is significant uncertainty in 3-4 day intensity predictions and [the public] are urged to monitor changes to future forecasts.”

The next storm name on the Atlantic’s list is Idalia (pronounced ee-DAL-ya).

Who should pay attention? Anyone living in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Cuba and the northern Gulf and Florida coast should monitor the forecast in the coming days. The direction and strength of the upper-level steering winds around this system will dictate where it will move and how quickly.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Saturday declaring a state of emergency for 33 counties ahead of the potential inclement weather. “The Governor and the Florida Division of Emergency Management are taking timely precautions to ensure Florida’s communities, infrastructure and resources are prepared, including those communities that are still recovering following Hurricane Ian,” reads a news release announcing the executive order.

When could it affect the US? The depression is expected to strengthen into a tropical storm on Sunday as it moves through the Yucatan Channel. By Monday, the system will likely enter the Gulf of Mexico, and move towards Florida. It could become a hurricane by Tuesday afternoon and hit the western coast of the Florida Peninsula by Wednesday.

How strong could it get? It’s still too soon to tell how strong this system could get – or how fast it could strengthen. But it will be tracking through the warmest waters in the entire Atlantic basin – a vast source of energy for a developing storm. Exceptionally warm water can provide storms the fuel needed to strengthen and sometimes undergo rapid intensification.

Sea surface temperatures are record warm in the Gulf of Mexico and extremely high across the northwestern Caribbean Sea. Water temperatures need to be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit to sustain tropical development, and portions of the Caribbean and Gulf are well above that threshold.

A hurdle to development: Warm water isn’t the only factor at play. This tropical system would also need upper-level winds to cooperate. High wind shear – the wind’s change in direction or speed with altitude – can tear a developing storm apart.

How much wind shear this potential system faces is a critical factor in its formation and final strength. One forecast model shows more wind shear, limiting its development. Another shows less wind shear, allowing the system to develop.

Either way, wind shear may decrease for a time early next week across the far northern Caribbean and eastern Gulf of Mexico, allowing any system that forms to hold together.

Franklin strengthens into hurricane as it heads for Bermuda

Meanwhile, out in the central Atlantic, what was Tropical Storm Franklin strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour, according to a Saturday morning update from the National Hurricane Center. This was confirmed via aircraft reconnaissance by the NOAA and Air Force Hurricane Hunters.

Hurricane Franklin is currently located 620 miles south of Bermuda and is moving relatively slowly at 7 miles per hour towards the north-northwest.

“Steady strengthening is forecast, and Franklin could become a major hurricane early next week,” said the center in its update. A major hurricane is defined as Category 3 or higher with winds above 111 mph.

“Swells generated by Franklin are expected to begin affecting Bermuda by Sunday night,” the hurricane center said, noting that, “these swells are also likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions late this weekend into early next week along portions of the East Coast of the United States.”

Small variations in Franklin’s track through the weekend will determine exactly how close it gets to Bermuda when it make its closest pass Monday and Monday night.

Franklin’s winds and rainfall will extend beyond its center. Tropical-storm-force wind gusts are possible across Bermuda early next week as Franklin makes its closest approach. A few showers and thunderstorms are also possible across Bermuda as Franklin passes.

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