The system in the eastern Atlantic could threaten the Caribbean by the middle of next week. (Credit: NHC)
With the exception of Hurricane Hermine, Florida has lucked out again this season, avoiding any major tropical systems and flooding rains that can accompany even weaker tropical storms.
But although the peak of the hurricane season is in our rear view mirror, and statistically the potential for new named storms continues to drop, October is the time of the year when Florida needs to be particularly wary.
Since 1900, Florida has had the most hurricane landfalls of any state after mid-September, according to Colorado State University hurricane expert Philip Klotzbach.
The reason is that storms tend to form in the western Caribbean, and often get turned north and then northeast into the Florida peninsula by cold fronts sweeping across the U.S.
Hurricane Wilma, the last major hurricane to hit the U.S., is the classic example from 2005. Wilma proved that even though these storms have to travel across the peninsula to reach Florida’s East Coast, they can be very damaging.
Now, as we near the start of October, forecast models have been consistent in predicting that the tropical system in the far eastern Atlantic will move into the Caribbean next week and possibly develop into a potent storm that will need to be watched very closely.
NOAA’s GFS has been playing ping-pong with its forecast for this system — which will likely earn and invest tag from the National Hurricane Center for the next few days — with the Florida peninsula playing the role of the net.
Earlier runs suggested that the storm would climb north through the Greater Antilles, skirt the southeastern Bahamas and spin north into the Atlantic. But then a more westerly track trend began, with the model showing a move over the Yucatan Peninsula and into the southern Gulf of Mexico.
Lately, trends have shifted back to the east, with a move from the western Caribbean into the eastern Gulf of Mexico, after which the storm — which could eventually earn the name Matthew — may threaten the Florida panhandle or the Big Bend area.
The European forecast model (ECMWF), which along with the GFS is the most respected in terms of long-range outlooks, has a strong storm sitting just off the coast of Honduras a week from Tuesday, on Oct. 4.
The Canadian model (CMC) shows it a little farther north, just off the coast of the Yucatan.
The Navy forecast model (NAVGEM) is developing it sooner, as it approaches the Lesser Antilles next Friday. A day later, on Oct. 1, it’s closing in on Jamaica.
Once the system gets an invest tag, the whole suite of forecast models will be available and will be re-run every six hours. They’ll need to be monitored carefully by everyone on the Gulf Coast, the Florida peninsula and up the Atlantic coast into the Carolinas.
On Saturday morning, the National Hurricane Center upped development chances of the system to 50 percent over the next five days. Forecasters said a tropical depression could form as it approaches the Lesser Antilles by the middle of next week.
“Troublingly, a considerable number of the ensemble model runs showed this storm becoming a hurricane in the Caribbean,” Weather Underground bloggers Bob Henson and Jeff Masters said in a post on Friday.
GFS forecast for Friday, Oct. 7. (Credit: NOAA)