Tropical Storm Fred to navigate toward Florida after dousing Caribbean
As the season’s sixth-named storm continues to develop this week, experts say the timing of its northward turn will determine its U.S. impacts.
The sixth-named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season developed on Tuesday evening, breaking the basin's month-long lull. Tropical Storm Fred was named as it lingered just south of Puerto Rico at 11 p.m., local time, Tuesday. AccuWeather meteorologists had been tracking the disturbance that became Fred since last week, before it was even designated Potential Tropical Cyclone Six by the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
The storm was blamed for power outages in Puerto Rico Tuesday night. The island's power grid remains fragile following the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria in 2017, The Associated Press reported. Eight shelters were opened across Puerto Rico, officials told the AP.
Fred will track through the northern Caribbean before eyeing the United States as early as this weekend. Floridians are being urged to remain vigilant as the AccuWeather Eye Path® will bring the system close to the Sunshine State with the potential for heavy rainfall, gusty winds and severe weather and dangerous seas.
Tropical Storm Fred is seen on AccuWeather's RealVue™ satellite just southeast of the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 20201. (AccuWeather)
The exact future track and intensity of the tropical system will determine the extent of the heavy rain and severe storm risks in the southeastern United States mainland next week, AccuWeather forecasters say.
As of 11 a.m. EDT Wednesday morning, the center of Tropical Storm Fred was moving just south of the eastern Dominican Republic. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, up from 40 mph at 8 a.m., and was moving west-northwest at a speed of 16 mph. Fred was located about 25 miles south-southeast of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic.
Tropical storm warnings have been discontinued for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, but remain in place for most of the Dominican Republic's coastline. A tropical storm watch is in effect for parts of Haiti, the Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas.
The system is forecast to continue on a generally west-northwest path near or over some of the islands in the north-central and northwestern Caribbean into Friday before it takes a turn toward the northwest and north that would bring the system northward toward the U.S. this weekend. How soon that northward turn begins will determine if the system strikes Florida or areas farther west along the Gulf of Mexico coastline.
The timing of the northward turn this weekend is dependent on how quickly an area of high pressure north of the tropical system weakens. If that area of high pressure weren't to weaken, the steering breezes associated with the high would guide the system toward the western Gulf Coast. However, AccuWeather meteorologists expect this high to weaken enough to create an avenue that would take the system northward over the eastern Gulf of Mexico this weekend, rather than continue its steady west-northwest path.
"Following additional organization and strengthening as a tropical storm through Tuesday night, interaction with the Greater Antilles is likely to cause some [loss of wind intensity] from Wednesday to Thursday and perhaps into Friday as well," AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said.
After it moves near Cuba, the system may re-strengthen when it reaches the eastern Gulf, Kottlowski explained. "But, wind shear near and over the Gulf of Mexico could mitigate strengthening and possibly cap the storm's intensity while it's over the Gulf of Mexico."
The general path of the storm is predicted to be roughly similar to Elsa during early July of this year. Elsa became the Atlantic's first hurricane of this season, and the earliest hurricane on record to form in the Caribbean. It beat out Eduardo from 2020 for the earliest fifth-named storm on record in the Atlantic. The cyclone became a tropical storm due to interaction with Hispaniola and Cuba before regaining hurricane status briefly while moving northward over the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Elsa struck the Florida Peninsula, north of Tampa, as a tropical storm with 65-mph winds on July 8.
There are some differences with the intensity and track of the current feature versus that of Elsa. Fred is taking a west-northwest path that is already farther to the north, compared to Elsa. This path will allow it to unleash heavier rainfall and stronger winds in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, even though the system may not be as strong as Elsa was in this part of the Caribbean.
Fred will be a less than one on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes in the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. Torrential rainfall is the greatest concern for lives and property in the northern Caribbean at this point.
"A general 2-4 inches of rain is forecast for Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and northern and eastern Cuba with locally higher amounts," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said.
"However, a general 4-8 inches of rain with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 12 inches is foreseen in portions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti," Pydynowski added. Rainfall of this intensity is enough to trigger flash flooding, mudslides and road washouts in hilly terrain and in deforested areas.
Enough wind is forecast to be generated by Fred to cause power outages and minor property damage.
"Wind gusts of 40-60 mph are foreseen from St. Croix and Puerto Rico to Cuba with AccuWeather Local StormMax™ gusts of 70 mph, or just under hurricane force, which is 74 mph," Pydynowski said.
Should the system strengthen quickly while over the northeastern Caribbean, winds and rainfall can become more intense.
Potential impacts on Florida, southeastern US
After it tracks through the Caribbean, the exact behavior of Fred is less certain, but AccuWeather meteorologists believe there will be at least some impact on Florida beginning this weekend or perhaps as early as Friday night and potentially lasting into early next week.
Some time during Friday or Friday night, the system is forecast to emerge from the northern coast of Cuba and begin the northward turn. How quickly this turn occurs will determine if the tropical system takes a path over the Florida Peninsula, over the Florida Keys and into the eastern Gulf of Mexico or perhaps farther west over the Gulf during this weekend.
Even though the projected path and strength of Tropical Storm Fred are subject to change this far out, people in the Keys and along the west coast of the Florida Peninsula should prepare for the impacts of a strong tropical storm or perhaps a Category 1 hurricane to approach this weekend.
Just as with Elsa, interests in the potential path of the storm may want to check the operation of generators, in addition to securing other hurricane supplies such as storm shutters, supply of drinking water in case of gusty winds and power outages.
Hurricane Elsa track map from June 30 to July 9.
At the very least, an increase in seas and surf are likely in the Keys and along part of the Florida Peninsula coastline this weekend. These conditions cannot only be a hazard for bathers, but also small vessels like fishing boats.
The strength and track of the system over the eastern Gulf will determine the amount of rain that falls on Florida this weekend to early next week. A track right over the Florida Peninsula might bring torrential rain and flooding problems as well as locally damaging winds from thunderstorms.
On the other hand, a more distant track over the eastern Gulf might bring less rain and wind to the peninsula, but it might allow for some strengthening of the system as it churns over warm waters. Such a track might potentially be more of a concern for the upper Gulf coast of Florida and the southeastern U.S. mainland early next week.
The degree of flooding along the Florida coastline will depend on the strength of the storm, where the storm makes landfall and the angle at which the storm moves inland, relative to the shape of the coast. A storm that strikes a coast at a perpendicular angle has the potential to bring much more significant coastal flooding in a small area, compared to a storm slicing inland along a broad area of coastline at a shallow angle.
Anticipated winds could push the system, as a tropical rainstorm, well inland over the southern U.S. as next week progresses. In addition to potential impacts from heavy rainfall and flooding could be locally strong thunderstorm wind gusts and perhaps isolated tornadoes and waterspouts.
Outlook for the bulk of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season
AccuWeather meteorologists warned that the Atlantic would awaken from its midsummer doldrums last week when several factors signaled that trend.
The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season continues to run well ahead of the average pace in terms of named tropical storms with a total of six thus far as of Aug. 10. Typically, the sixth tropical storm does not occur until Sept. 8 and the second hurricane does not occur until Aug. 28.
AccuWeather's team of meteorologists are expecting 16-20 named systems with seven to 10 hurricanes for this season. There have already been three landfalls in the U.S. this year with a total of five to seven anticipated, including one or more threats along the East Coast of the U.S., as the season continues to unfold.
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