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AccuWeather.com meteorologists are still monitoring the potential for a tropical system to enter the Gulf of Mexico late this weekend or early next week that could affect the oil spill area thereafter.
Since the system has not yet formed, there is still quite a bit of uncertainty on its potential strength and track. The feature of interest is an area of low pressure currently located between Honduras and Jamaica.
This area of low pressure was continuing to develop early Friday morning. As the feature drifts west-northwestward across the Caribbean into Saturday, the combination of warm water temperatures and favorably weak wind shear could support development into a tropical depression or tropical storm.
If the feature heads farther toward the north over the northwestern Caribbean through the weekend, however, it may encounter an area of stronger wind shear and have a lesser chance of developing. Beyond this weekend, this area of stronger wind shear is expected to lift northward through the Gulf of Mexico and could give the feature a chance to develop into a tropical system over the southwestern Gulf early next week.
Two Scenarios Computer models are showing two main scenarios on where the feature will track.
A few computer models continue to bring the system over or just east of the Yucatan Peninsula this weekend, then farther north-northeast through the central or eastern Gulf of Mexico by early next week. In this scenario, the system would target locations from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
In the other scenario, the majority of the computer models are now showing the system taking a more west-northwesterly track, passing over the Yucatan Peninsula this weekend and heading across the western Gulf of Mexico toward Texas or Mexico by next week. This track would steer the system clear of the oil spill area.
While most of the computer models now favor the second scenario, the first is not being ruled out. Expert Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity has taken a look at historical tracks of tropical systems that formed in this part of the Caribbean south of Jamaica. He found that many of these systems tended to take a track similar to the first scenario, heading toward the central or eastern Gulf Coast.
There is also a chance that the feature would end up splitting into two pieces, one heading north through the central or eastern Gulf of Mexico and one heading westward across Central America. This added chance further complicates forecasting efforts.
Potential Impacts with Both Scenarios Regardless of whether or not the feature develops into a tropical system, it will produce heavy rain and potential flooding and mudslides along its track. Tropical moisture associated with the system is also expected to continue extending far to its north-northeast, allowing heavy rain to fall in places well north and northeast of the feature.
Heavy rain will continue impacting parts of Hispaniola, Jamaica and Cuba before potentially affecting Florida over the weekend.
If the system continues on to follow the first scenario, it would threaten areas from the central into the eastern Gulf Coast next week. The worst case situation (but certainly not the most likely) for the oil spill and interests along the Gulf Coast would be system making landfall over Louisiana as a hurricane.
If this were to happen, the system would create the biggest storm surge just to the east of its center, potentially sending oil and tar balls onshore over parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
The strongest winds in a hurricane are also generated east of the storm's center.
Both proposed scenarios put the Yucatan Peninsula, including popular tourist destinations such as Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, at risk for flooding rain. Wind damage and a storm surge would be added threats if the feature develops into a tropical storm or hurricane before landfall.
In the second scenario, the system could continue on to threaten the Mexican mainland or perhaps even Texas next week. This second scenario would have minimal impact on the oil spill area.
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