At 5 pm on Saturday the National Hurricane Center designated the tropical low pressure center in the southern Gulf to be Tropical Depression 10, which signals that there is a closed circulation and starts the process of producing forecast maps for the storm. It is expected to become Tropical Storm Idalia as soon as they find tropical-storm-force winds in the storm. The forecast cone is currently showing the storm to move very slowly over the Gulf with little movement for the next day and then it will start to move to the north over the very warm water of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It could make landfall somewhere along the Florida Panhandle or northwest coast on Tuesday. However, this is highly uncertain at this point because the storm is not well developed so the models cannot do a good job of predicting where it will go. They are even worse at predicting how intense it will be. Some people speculate that a slow trip north over the Gulf could lead to rapid intensification that would make the storm much stronger, but there is also some wind shear at high elevations that could prevent that from happening. It is unlikely to be as strong as Hurricane Michael, fortunately.
This weekend is the time to prepare for the storm. The NOAA Preparedness graphic below can help identify some things you can do as you watch the evolution of the storm. Make your plans ahead of time in case the storm tracks close to you. That includes things like gassing up your car if you think you will need to evacuate (or even if you think power will be out for a while and you won’t be able to pump gas), store some water and non-perishable food, pet food, diapers, and other things you might need if roads are shut down for a while due to downed trees or floods. If you think you might need to evacuate, then figure out where you are going to go and how to get there. Some coastal areas may be flooded due to the storm surge and onshore winds that are occurring near full moon when tides are already high.
Keep in mind that the forecasts are going to be updated every six hours or so and you will see changes in the path over time, so don’t get locked into one idea of what conditions you might experience. Plan for the worst and then you will be ready for the next storm to come along. We are just entering the start of the most active period of the Atlantic hurricane season, so this may not be the last time this year that you have to think about it.
The key for what weather to expect is where the center of the storm goes. It could go anywhere in the cone, so don’t focus on the center line. However, keep in mind that the weather is usually worse to the right of the track, with higher winds, the possibility of tornadoes, and potentially heavy rain if the storm has a slow forward speed. Areas to the west of the storm usually have less severe winds and more limited rainfall as well as less chance of a tornado. So if the storm track shifts, the expected weather will also shift.
Once the circulation of the storm becomes more defined, the models will improve and we will have more confidence in what conditions we might expect. For now, watch and prepare for what might come and you will be more likely to weather the storm well.