Tropical Storm Gordon could develop off Southwest Florida

We can expect a soggy Labor Day holiday, with brief periods of intense rain beginning early Sunday expected to give way to more intense, prolonged rainfall as the day wears on.

We can thank that broad patch of stormy weather drifting toward the Gulf of Mexico, tropical wave that forecasters now say is likely to become Tropical Storm Gordon off Southwest Florida Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, forecasters are also watching Tropical Storm Florence and a new wave off the African coast.

A briefing issued Sunday morning by the National Weather Service said the system could soak southeast Florida cities from Miami to Jupiter from through early Tuesday. Winds as high as 18 mph, with gusts reaching 22 mph, are expected. Also possible are tornadoes and waterspouts.

The current wind pattern is expected to gradually change and lead the storm over the eastern and central Gulf of Mexico by Tuesday or Wednesday. That will spread heavy rains across much of the Bahamas, South Florida and the Florida Keys during the next day or two, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The heaviest rain, with three inches or more possible, is expected to fall along the coast from just south of Miami to just south of West Palm Beach, as the storm system moves through the Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Weather Service.

The mix of high pressure and the approaching tropical wave led the weather service to put out a rip current warning for the coast from Jupiter Inlet to Miami for Monday.

“It’s related to the east winds that have increased in the last day or so,” said Robert Molleda, a meteorologist with the weather service.

He said there’s a potential for flooding in the next 36 hours.

Meanwhile, a patch of bad weather off the African coast formed into Tropical Storm Florence early Saturday morning but is not expected to reach hurricane strength or threaten the United States. It will strengthen over the next few days, however.

At 11 a.m. Sunday, the tropical storm was located west of the Cape Verde Islands — which puts it about 2,500 miles from South Florida. It had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, with the system moving northwest at 14 mph. Additional slow strengthening is expected.

According to the forecast, the system is expected to stay below hurricane strength, reaching a maximum 70 mph in early next week. The system’s current forecast cone appears to show it most likely to veer north into the Atlantic, missing the Caribbean and the United States.

The forecast track has the future storm traveling west before turning toward the west-northwest over the next few days. Beyond that, it was too early to say with any certainty if the storm would threaten the United States, although some long-range outlooks were throwing doubt on that possibility.

Forecasts produced by the long-range, computer-powered forecast models used by weather agencies around the world suggest the likely tropical cyclone could head west into the Atlantic before turning north into the open ocean before reaching the Caribbean Sea early next week, reducing the likelihood of landfall in the Caribbean islands or the United States.

Also Sunday, forecasters are keeping an eye on a new tropical wave that just emerged off the African coast. The wave is forecast to move westward over the far eastern tropical Atlantic for the next several days. Upper-level winds are expected to gradually become more conducive for some slow development of this disturbance by the middle of the week.

But forecasters warn that any long-range forecast should be viewed with skepticism because conditions could change.

Other weather watchers are pointing that conditions in the Atlantic hurricane zone, which includes the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, are becoming more hospitable to cyclone formation.

So far in 2018 the Atlantic tropics have been relatively quiet. At the start of August, hurricane experts at Colorado State University said that conditions in the Atlantic — cooler than average ocean surface temperatures and varying wind speeds in the atmosphere — have diminished the chances of a hurricane striking the U.S. during the remainder of the hurricane season, which goes until Nov. 30.

John Homenuk, a meteorologist at nymetroweather.com, said in a tweet that “[d]evelopment conditions are about to become much less hostile in the Tropical Atlantic.”

We’re also entering the peak of the hurricane season, when so-called Cape Verde storms emerge in the far eastern Atlantic.

Staff writer Anne Geggis contributed to this report.

brettclarkson@sun-sentinel.com or Twitter @BrettClarkson_

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