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National Hurricane Center forecasters upped the odds for a tropical system developing in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday morning to 60 percent.
In an 8 a.m. advisory, forecasters said conditions remain more favorable for the sloppy storm to become better organized as it moves north from the coast of Belize and into the Gulf. Whether or not it forms, it’s still expected to dump heavy rain across soggy South Florida, which in some places is already in danger of breaking monthly rainfall records.
The storm, the first officially designated invest of the season, remained near the coast of northeast Belize Wednesday morning. Over the next few days, strong upper level winds are expected to keep it in check. But as it moves north into the central Gulf over waters just warm enough to fuel development, it’s expected to encounter more friendly conditions.
If a tropical depression or storm forms, it’s likely to happen in the northern Gulf, sparing South Florida. However, forecasters say more heavy rain is still likely, drenching an already saturated South Florida.
Over the last month, nearly eight inches have fallen along the coast in Miami-Dade County, according to the South Florida Water Management District. Broward County’s coast has received 12.24 inches, more than three times it’s normal amount for the month.
If a system does form — the first named storm will be Alberto — it comes just days before the official start of the hurricane season on June 1. The system is also the season’s first invest, a designation created by the hurricane center last year for system’s brewing close to land and intended to give emergency managers more time to prepare. The designation does not mean a system is any more likely to form.
Since flooding is the leading cause of death linked to tropical systems, forecasters have put more effort into warnings about rainfall. Hurricane Harvey led to more than 80 deaths in Texas last year after getting unprecedented rain, with a new U.S. record set at more than 60 inches. In addition to rain, forecasters must also coordinate storm surge warnings.
This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to issue more specific rain hazard maps predicting levels of risk, although modeling still falls short for incorporating surge.
“You can see there’s lots of pieces to this puzzle and that’s why it’s such a challenge.” said NOAA meteorologist Lance Wood.
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich