Tropical storm warnings posted in Florida Keys ahead of Fred’s arrival

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist Updated Aug. 13, 2021 10:23 AM MDT

Tropical storm warnings were issued for the Florida Keys on Friday as Tropical Depression Fred was spinning about 270 miles southeast of Key West as of the midday hours. AccuWeather meteorologists say that even though the system was still looking disorganized, it still has a chance at restrengthening into a tropical storm as it moves through the eastern Gulf of Mexico this weekend.

Meanwhile, Floridians in Miami and elsewhere in the Sunshine State braced for their second brush with a tropical storm so far this hurricane season.

AccuWeather forecasters have rated Fred less than one on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes in the Caribbean and the United States. Damaging winds and coastal flooding are both likely to result from Fred, but AccuWeather forecasters are most concerned by the threat of excessive rainfall and flooding that could ensue over the Florida Peninsula and if the storm slows down significantly over the southeastern U.S. as predicted.

“People need to remain vigilant about this system as it is likely to make a comeback prior to reaching the U.S. this weekend,” AccuWeather Chief On-Air Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said.

“There is a good chance for two landfalls in the U.S. with Fred with the first likely in the Florida Keys early Saturday and the second likely over northern Florida by early next week,” Rayno said.

On Friday, Fred had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph — down from 45 mph on Wednesday. It was moving west-northwest at 10 mph. Due to the slowing nature of the depression, the NOAA and the Air Force Reserve were able to investigate Fred onboard a hurricane hunter aircraft on Thursday evening.

In addition to the tropical storm warnings in the Florida Keys, tropical storm watches were in effect from Englewood to Ocean Reef, Florida, on the peninsula.

There are some hurdles that the storm will face in order to regain strength through late this week. Dry air is one factor that may come into play as the storm navigates the Greater Antilles on Friday. The mountainous terrain of Hispaniola, with peaks reaching as high as 10,000 feet, has already distorted the tropical system. The high terrain tends to disrupt the circulation of tropical systems, which dwell in the lower part of the atmosphere.

Fred is anticipated to travel across water as it passes Cuba; however, due to the close proximity to land, strengthening will likely be a slow process.

This animation, taken early Friday morning, Aug. 13, 2021, shows Fred as it approached Cuba. Hispaniola appears to the right of center. (CIRA at Colorado State/GOES-East)

It’s not out of the question that Fred could diminish altogether due to these influences on Friday, but AccuWeather meteorologists believe that Fred will survive and may even re-organize near the northern coast of Cuba later Friday and Friday night. That has set the stage for concerns in the U.S., with impacts due to a strengthening tropical storm expected to begin by this weekend. There is even the potential for Fred to regain enough strength to reach hurricane status while in the Gulf of Mexico.

Showers and thunderstorms associated with Fred may reach parts of South Florida and the Florida Keys as early as Friday afternoon and evening as the system continues to move to the northwest.

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Heavy rain and gusty winds from Fred are forecast to spread across Florida this weekend and the southeastern United States mainland late in the weekend and into early next week, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tony Zartman said. The risk will exist for waterspouts and tornadoes to spin up, especially in the Florida Keys and along the Gulf coast of Florida as Fred churns in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The strength and prevalence of winds to impact the Florida Keys and the peninsula will depend on the exact track and intensity Fred takes as the storm approaches. Water temperatures were like bath water in the region that Fred will journey over — a factor that’s likely to fuel the system’s reorganization. The water temperature at Key West was 88.5 F on Thursday.

Exactly how much strengthening occurs north of Cuba and later in the eastern Gulf of Mexico is uncertain at this point, but there is the potential for the Florida Keys and the Gulf coast of Florida to be affected by a strong tropical storm starting this weekend. Despite concerns over wind shear inhibiting intensification, this element could actually help strengthen Fred.

“While some increase in wind shear seems likely over the eastern Gulf of Mexico, this could be a case where a moderate amount of mid-level shear and other factors actually help to vent Fred and allow the system to strengthen quickly,” AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said.

A moderate amount of wind shear actually helped eastern Gulf of Mexico Hurricane Michael in 2018 and Hermine in 2016 to strengthen in this manner.

Often storms that encounter weak wind shear and impact Florida trigger the greatest rainfall totals well away from the storm center, Kottlowski said.

It is possible that heavy rain and flooding problems may sweep northward across much of the Florida Peninsula. That will occur as strong winds out of the west and southwest will push moisture well east of Fred’s center during the weekend.

AccuWeather meteorologists are leaning for the center of Fred to track northward while just off the Gulf coast of the Florida Peninsula.

Elsa behaved in this manner during early July, but Elsa had peaked as a hurricane in the eastern Caribbean and briefly restrengthened to a hurricane over the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Elsa lost wind intensity and returned to being a tropical storm prior to making landfall north of Tampa on July 8.

“Wind gusts of 40-60 mph can arrive in the Florida Keys as early as Friday night and could reach the southwest coast of Florida early Saturday,” Zartman stated.

Gusty winds are then expected to spread north over the Florida Peninsula and especially along the Gulf coast of Florida this weekend, eventually reaching the Florida Panhandle later Sunday or Sunday night.

“Winds are likely to peak late Sunday night into Monday near and to the east of where the center of Fred makes landfall, which is forecast to be over the central or eastern part of the Florida Panhandle at this time,” Zartman said.

“In this area of Florida, wind gusts of 60-80 mph with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 80 mph may occur and are likely to trigger sporadic to regional power outages and minor property damage,” Zartman added.

A hurricane has maximum sustained winds of 74 mph or greater.

Steering breezes that are currently guiding Fred along at a steady pace are expected to continue into the weekend. The breezes are being generated by an area of high pressure centered over the Atlantic Ocean.

During this weekend, a gap is forecast to develop in these winds near Florida, which should allow Fred to turn northward. As these steering breezes weaken by early next week, there is the potential for Fred to stall or slow to a crawl.

Should Fred move very slowly through the Southeastern states, prolonged heavy rainfall is possible during much of next week. Enough rain may fall to cause flooding problems to escalate from isolated flash and urban flooding to more general stream and river flooding in portions of northern Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

“A general 4-8 inches of rain is possible across these areas with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 15 inches due to slow movement,” Zartman said. But if Fred were to completely stall, rainfall amounts could climb even higher, and precipitation would generally be confined to the Southeast.

If, on the other hand, Fred manages to keep moving at a steady pace, rainfall may end up being somewhat lower and flooding problems may be less severe. Downpours from the tropical system may eventually reach the mid-Atlantic coast. Some re-generation of Fred could occur offshore over the ocean in this scenario.

With all of these factors taken into account, Fred is rated as less than one on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes in the Caribbean and U.S.

The RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes is a 6-point scale with ratings of less than one and 1 to 5 and differs from the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which is based on wind speed alone. The AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes is based on the expected threats for coastal flooding, flooding rainfall, wind damage and a number of other economic factors.

The amount of rain, wind and impacts from Fred is subject to change depending upon the overall track and strength of the tropical system as it moves from the Caribbean to the Gulf of Mexico.

Fred was given a name and called a tropical storm by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) at 11 p.m. Tuesday, becoming the sixth-named storm of the season and ending a month-long lull of tropical activity in the Atlantic Ocean.

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 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 is 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.

There is another area AccuWeather meteorologists are monitoring for tropical development in the coming days. That feature was located several hundred miles to the west-southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands in the eastern Atlantic. (Click to Source)

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