FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A vigorous tropical wave approaching the southern Bahamas could grow into a tropical depression, storm or even a hurricane and bring rough weather to South Florida by Friday. Or not.
Although the wave was gaining intensity and organization Tuesday, its ultimate strength and path remain uncertain. Even so, forecasters advised residents to keep an eye on it.
“It looks like whatever is down there is generally headed in our direction,” said meteorologist Dan Dixon of the National Weather Service in Miami. “It’s just something we’ll have to watch.”
Tuesday night, the National Hurricane Center in Miami-Dade County, Fla., gave the system a 60 percent chance of developing into a tropical depression or storm by Thursday. The wave was in the Atlantic near the Dominican Republic, or about 800 miles southeast of Miami, moving northwest at 10 mph.
A hurricane hunter aircraft is scheduled to investigate on Wednesday.
“It’s a wait-and-see situation, but this one’s got our attention,” said Dennis Feltgen, hurricane center spokesman.
Computer models are scattered, with some aiming the system over Cuba and others into Central Florida. But most point it generally toward South Florida.
Feltgen noted the models can’t be fully trusted until the disturbance develops a closed center of circulation, a primary requirement before a system can be deemed a tropical depression or storm.
If the system moves south of the state or survives crossing over it, it could emerge in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday and possibly pose a threat to the BP oil spill area, forecasters said.
Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist of Weather Underground, an online weather site, gave the system a 30 percent chance of spinning up into a hurricane before reaching Florida.
Working in its favor, the disturbance would travel over extremely warm waters. Working against it, the system would run into a patch of dry air over the Bahamas and might be disrupted by the mountains of Hispaniola, he said.
One way or the other, South Florida could see rains by Thursday night, with the bulk of bad weather arriving on Friday and continuing into Saturday.
The amount of wind and rain, Molleda said, will depend on the system’s strength.
“That’s what we’re monitoring closely,” he said.
If the system hits as a tropical storm — in which case it would be named Bonnie — South Florida could see winds of more than 70 mph and heavy downpours, Molleda said. He added the worst weather likely will be on the storm’s north side and could be a good distance from the core.
He said even if it remains a strong wave, it still could produce strong thunderstorms and gusty winds.
The wave is expected to bring heavy rains and gusty winds to the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, eastern Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Turks and Cacos and the southern Bahamas over the next couple of days, the hurricane center said.