SEBRING — Highlands County residents will be breathing a collective sigh of relief with the rest of Florida as it looks like the peninsula will not get a hit from the Gulf of Mexico disturbance currently known as Potential Tropical Cyclone Two.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center said there is a good possibility of a tropical depression by today (Thursday).
NOAA Meteorologist Ernie Jillson told the Highlands News-Sun on Wednesday the storm is now forecast at near 100% to develop and he didn’t see any reason why the storm would not. He said by 8 a.m. Thursday, the possible cyclone could be a tropical depression and by 8 p.m. the depression could be upgraded into a tropical storm. It is forecast to be a hurricane on Friday.
If it becomes a named storm, the storm’s name will be Barry.
The good news for Florida is that NOAA is calling for the storm to track west-southwest at 8 mph.
The storm should move south of Mississippi and Alabama then move into the northwest central Gulf into the upper-Texas coast to Louisiana, according to Jillson.
“Highlands County is not going to have any impact at all,” Jillson said. “The Panhandle could get some rain, but no storm surge or direct winds from the storm.”
However, the normal afternoon thunderstorms will still be in effect for Highlands County.
Jillson warned that we still have a long way to go until hurricane season is over with the peak still ahead of us.
“Hurricane season runs through Nov. 30,” Jillson said. “The most active times are in August, September and sometimes in October. It is way too early to say ‘we dodged a bullet.’
“This one we are OK with,” he said. “Nobody can say whether Florida will get a direct hit this season.”
Jillson said NOAA will update its hurricane season forecast as needed and he believed the next update was going to be in August.
As of press time on Wednesday, storm surges and tropical storm watches have been issued for the northern Gulf of Mexico.
The NOAA website defines storm surge and tropical storm warnings as:
“Storm Surge Warning: There is a danger of life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the shoreline somewhere within the specified area, generally within 36 hours.”
The site says to know evacuation routes and listen for updates from local officials.
“Tropical Storm Warning: Tropical storm conditions (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph) are expected within your area within 36 hours.”
A 10 a.m. NOAA public safety bulletin issued on Wednesday read: “A Storm Surge Watch has been issued from the Mouth of the Pearl River to Morgan City, Louisiana. The water could reach 3 to 5 feet above ground level if the peak surge occurs at the time of high tide.
“A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued from the Mouth of the Mississippi River to Morgan City, Louisiana. Tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area by late Thursday or early Friday.”