MIAMI – The disturbance in the western Caribbean south of Cancun, Mexico is now Tropical Storm Michael. The system is expected to move north across the Gulf of Mexico over the next few days. Michael will be a threat to the northern Gulf Coast midweek.
A dip in the jet stream will push Michael north. Initially, the push will be relatively weak, but then the river of air will strengthen, and Michael should move more quickly Tuesday. Weather is expected to deteriorate on the northern Gulf Coast as early as Tuesday afternoon, with the center arriving Wednesday or early Thursday.
Bearing in mind that forecasts of developing systems are subject to higher-than-normal errors, the threat zone appears to be between Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. Michael will likely be a lopsided system, with the strongest winds, by far, on the right side of where the circulation center comes ashore. People on the Florida west coast, north of Tampa Bay, should also stay aware of developments with Michael.
The current estimate is that Michael will be near or above hurricane strength at landfall. The upper winds will be somewhat hostile Sunday and into Monday, but then are forecast to become more favorable Tuesday into Wednesday. This is expected to give Michael an opportunity to strengthen.
In addition, the Gulf waters are unusually warm, so Michael will have plenty of fuel. Do not rely on current intensity forecasts as being the final word. Michael could strengthen more than forecast in the last day before landfall. The affected areas will have to fully prepare for a hurricane and be ready by late Tuesday afternoon on the current schedule.
Everyone from Alabama to the Florida Big Bend should stay aware of forecast updates this week. The northern Gulf Coast is extremely vulnerable to storm-surge flooding, and this will be a significant threat to the east of the landfall point.
Michael will have no direct effect on South Florida. The moisture being drawn into the storm will stream over the entire peninsula, however. This will likely be with us all week, with periods of heavy rain likely. It looks like a rainy week.
Tropical Storm Leslie continues to be no threat in the central Atlantic Ocean.