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Tropical Storm Otto may form in last gasp of Atlantic hurricane season

By By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
November 18, 2016, 9:45:11 AM EST

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A stalled cluster of showers and thunderstorms in the western Caribbean has the potential to become the next named tropical system of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season.

Interests from Jamaica and Honduras, southward to Colombia may want to monitor the development of the system due to its close proximity and potential for sudden strengthening next week.

The cluster of showers and thunderstorms in the area began to slowly spin recently.

If this spin becomes fully circular and consolidates, then a tropical depression will be born. If sustained winds achieve 39 mph, then the threshold for a tropical storm will be reached and the system would be named.

The next name on the list of tropical storms and hurricane is Otto.

Caribbean Loop Otto

This live loop is focused on the southwestern Atlantic basin. The area of potential tropical development is over the western Caribbean. (NOAA/Satellite)

The Caribbean is the most favorable area over the Atlantic basin for development through the end of hurricane season, which concludes on Nov. 30.

"The combination of low wind shear, plenty of moisture and warm waters will be favorable for tropical development in the western and central Caribbean through next week," according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

Wind shear is the change in the movement of air at different levels of the atmosphere. Strong wind shear can prevent a tropical system from developing or cause an established tropical system to weaken.

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Warm water is needed to allow showers and thunderstorms to blossom. The water in the area is warmer than average.

"A front approaching from the north and a tropical wave approaching from the east will reach the vicinity of the shower and thunderstorm cluster over the next few days," Kottlowski said.

One or both of these systems may jump start the tropical development process this weekend or early next week.

"We expect the system to become a tropical depression," Kottlowski said.

The cluster of showers and thunderstorms has remained nearly stationary over the southwestern Caribbean this past week due to weak steering winds.

Feature graphic hd23

The odds are against the system to become as strong as Hurricane Matthew was. However, conditions could allow the system to become a strong tropical storm or hurricane.

At this time, it appears less likely the center of the system will reach areas from Cuba to Hispaniola and Puerto Rico due to a swath of dry air to the north. If that scenario is correct, then the system will not be a threat to the United States or Bermuda.

However, even if the center of the anticipated system fails to physically move across these areas, heavy rain can extend well away from the center, especially as the front and tropical wave act upon it.

The greatest threats from such a system would be from flash flooding, mudslides and rough seas.

As a result, people from Haiti and the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico should still be prepared for localized downpours.

"Later next week, the tropical system may stall, then be forced southward or westward by the push of dry air to the north," Kottlowski said.

Areas from Jamaica and Honduras to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia will be at the greatest risk for torrential downpours and locally gusty thunderstorms through much of next week.

Should the system begin to organize and strengthen, river flooding, coastal inundation and damaging winds could occur in some of these locations.

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