Storm warning, flood watch in effect for South Florida ahead of system likely to become Tropical Storm Alex

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — South Florida remains under a tropical storm warning Friday afternoon as the National Hurricane Center watches development of the low pressure system in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico that is expected to become Tropical Storm Alex as it gets closer to the state.

The Hurricane Center said aircraft data indicates the system has changed little in the past several hours, and South Florida could expect between 4 and 8 inches of rain with some isolated areas getting as much as 12 inches of rain. On Friday afternoon the hurricane center said heavy rains are spreading across South Florida and western Cuba as the system moves slowly to the northeast.

Despite the expected heavy rainfall and potential for flooding, the South Florida Water Management District said the region is prepared to handle the storm.

“Our grounds are not overly saturated at this point,” said Randy Smith, spokesman for the SFWMD. “We’re in a really good situation, not that you ever want a storm of 8 to 12 inches of rain. But if you had the scenario that’s probably best to handle it, we’re probably there right now.”

The National Hurricane Center, in its 2 p.m. Friday update, kept half of the state under the Tropical Storm Warning with a growing system expected to become Tropical Storm Alex, the first named storm of 2022.

The disturbance has sustained tropical-storm-force winds of 40 mph, and is located about 395 miles southwest of Fort Myers and about 150 miles north-northeast of Cozumel, Mexico, while moving northeast at 5 mph. Tropical-storm-force winds extend 70 miles outward.

“Data from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that the circulation associated with the disturbance has become a little better defined over the Gulf of Mexico north of the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula,” the hurricane center said.

The system has yet to organize its circulation to be a named storm.

“On the forecast track,” the hurricane center said, “the system should move across the southeastern Gulf of Mexico through tonight, across the southern and central portions of the Florida Peninsula on Saturday, and then over the southwestern Atlantic north of the northwestern Bahamas Saturday afternoon through Sunday.”

The Tropical Storm Warning now runs on the Gulf Coast from the middle of Longboat Key on the Sarasota-Manatee County border south, including all of the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas, and then along Florida’s east coast to the Brevard-Volusia County line as well as Lake Okeechobee.

Heavy rains will begin to affect South Florida and the Keys this afternoon and continue through Saturday. Those areas could see up to 12 inches of rain and may produce considerable flash flooding.

All of South Florida remains under a flood watch from midnight Friday through Sunday morning, the National Weather Service Miami said.

The hurricane center predicted the system’s wind speeds will reach a maximum of 50 mph by Sunday evening.

The South Florida Water Management District is optimistic about its ability to handle the predicted rainfall amounts.

The SFWMD manages water from Orlando to the Florida Keys, and has been lowering canal levels in South Florida for days in preparation of a possible onslaught of rain.

“We’re doing the same thing on the southwest coast as we are in Martin, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade [counties],” Smith said.

Smith said water levels are in good condition starting with Lake Okeechobee, which is at 12.5 feet, right where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers likes it heading into hurricane season. Smith said the SFWMD is like the “interstate of canals” when it comes to water management.

“You have all of the feeder canals that are the smaller roads and highways that feed into the Water Management District canals,” he said. “Then we take that water and move it out into the ocean, so everything is moving to the east. And we do that by gravity, moving water from the west, where the elevation is a little higher, to the east, and by using mechanical methods like the big pumping stations.”

Smith said nature has also helped prepare South Florida for the coming rain.

“We are in a good situation in that it’s been fairly dry up until the last few days,” he said. “We don’t have any problematic areas that we’re concerned about.”

Smith said residents should make sure storm drains are clear.

If the drains are not clear “you need to report it and people will come out and clean it up right away,” he said. “It sounds so simple, but that has been an issue in the past with clogged storm water drains that create unnecessary flooding when it could have been easily avoided.”

The system is expected to cross the state and into the Atlantic Ocean during the early part of the day on Saturday. It is lopsided, with the heaviest rain and strongest wind gusts to the east and south of its center, the National Weather Service said.

Fort Lauderdale and Miami are both included in the area expected to have the highest potential of flash flooding through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. West Palm Beach has a moderate potential for flooding.