Tropical Storm Gonzalo expected to become hurricane by Thursday

Austen Erblat, Robin Webb and Brooke Baitinger, Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tropical Storm Gonzalo, which formed Wednesday morning, is expected to become a hurricane by Thursday, according to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center.

It is one of two tropical disturbances the National Hurricane Center is currently monitoring, and the seventh named storm of an already busy 2020 hurricane season.

By 5 p.m. EDT, Gonzalo was located in the central tropical Atlantic and approaching the Lesser Antilles. The storm was about 1,110 miles east of the Southern Windward Islands, with winds at 50 mph and tropical-storm-force winds extending outward only up to 25 miles from the center, the NHC said. Gusts are expected to increase over the next two days.

Gonzalo is expected to continue to move at 10 to 15 mph, and a “general westward motion at a faster forward speed is expected in the next few days,” according to the hurricane center.

“The current five-day forecast has Gonzalo in the central Caribbean Sea, and we really can’t speculate beyond that where it might head,” Robert Molleda, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Miami, said in an email Wednesday afternoon. “Any storm in the Caribbean Sea bears watching, and this one is no different. It’s too early to know if South Florida will be impacted, and for now there is no threat. Just something to watch, which is something we should be doing anyway as we approach the peak of the season.”

Levi Cowan, a meteorologist with the hurricane research division of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, tweeted Wednesday morning that the storm’s strengthening trend increases the odds of a significant storm impacting the Lesser Antilles by Saturday.

Other named storms this year have included Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard and Fay. Tropical Storm Arthur formed in mid-May, making this the sixth straight year that a named storm formed before the official start of hurricane season on June 1.

Virtually all estimates for this hurricane season predict an above-average number of storms, due to unusually warm ocean temperatures and global climate factors that are likely to reduce the high-altitude winds that can prevent the formation of hurricanes.

In addition to Gonzalo, a cluster of storms moving west-northwest at 10 mph over the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday has a 70% chance of developing in the next two days, the hurricane center said in its latest update. As of 2 p.m., the hurricane center said watches or warnings could soon be issued for the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

The wave is expected to reach the northwestern Gulf on Thursday.

It is responsible for disorganized showers and thunderstorms over the eastern Gulf of Mexico, central and southern Florida, and western Cuba.

“For South Florida, this means that we will basically have a continuation of the weather pattern of the past few days, with occasional showers and thunderstorms bringing periods of heavy rainfall and gusty wind,” Molleda said Tuesday.

“We do not expect tropical storm conditions across South Florida, nor do we expect all day rainfall, just a continuation of the weather we’ve been experiencing,” he continued. “There may be a temporary decrease in showers and thunderstorms Thursday night and Friday, but all in all no major changes in our weather pattern through the end of the week and probably into the weekend. Rain chances will be at least 50% each day.”

While this system poses no immediate threat to South Florida, Molleda said these storms serve as a reminder to be prepared during hurricane season.

“Now that we’re heading into the peak months of the season, (it’s) is a good reminder to make sure we’re ready,” he said. “We all should check our hurricane plans and make any adjustments and purchases before a threat, not wait until a storm gets very close to us.”

When hurricane season began June 1, two named storms, Arthur and Bertha, had already come and gone. The next day, Cristobal formed. Dolly formed on June 23 in the north Atlantic before weakening to a tropical depression and then dissipating the next day. There have been three tropical storms so far this month: Gonzalo, Edouard and Fay.

On July 8, Colorado State University issued a slightly more pessimistic outlook for hurricane season than its earlier forecast, upping the number of named storms from 19 to 20. A named storm is a tropical storm or hurricane.

An average season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, with three becoming major hurricanes.

The report pointed to above-average ocean surface temperatures and the possibility of a La Niña, the cooling of the eastern Pacific Ocean that creates favorable conditions for the formation of Atlantic hurricanes.

South Florida’s weather forecast calls for heavy thunderstorms all week, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures will range from a low of about 78 degrees to highs of about 90.

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(Sun Sentinel staff writer David Fleshler contributed to this report.)

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