FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Tropical storm warnings were issued early Friday for much of the Florida, Cuba and Bahamas peninsula as a system pulling Mexico through the Gulf of Mexico, threatening heavy rain and winds for the weekend.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm once known as Agatha in the Pacific will become known as Alex in the Atlantic basin.
An advisory posted early Friday noted that data from a hurricane fighter aircraft indicated that the system’s maximum sustained winds had increased overnight and that it was expected to “develop a well-defined center and become a tropical storm.” as it approaches Florida, the hurricane center said. A system becomes a tropical storm when winds reach 62 km/h.
At 5 a.m., the system was about 420 miles (676 kilometers) southwest of Fort Myers and was moving northeast at 10 mph.
Some reinforcement is possible as the system approaches Florida Friday afternoon and evening, the consultancy said.
The warning applies to both Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts, from just below Tampa Bay and Daytona Beach to the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. Parts of Cuba, including Pinar del Rio, Artemisa, La Habana and Mayabeque provinces, and the northwestern Bahamas are also warned with tropical storm strength expected within 36 hours.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially started on Tuesday. This is an unusually early start to the storm season, but not unprecedented for Florida.
The National Hurricane Center predicts rainfall of up to 10 inches is possible in South Florida, including the Florida Keys. The storm is not expected to cause massive winds or major storm surges. But local flooding is likely and winds can be a bit strong.
“Heavy rains will begin to affect South Florida and the Keys Friday and will continue through Saturday,” the Hurricane Center said in an online message. Also predicted are storm surge and flooding, the severity of which depends on the timing of the tides.
Like a storm in the Pacific, Hurricane Agatha caused flooding and mudslides that killed at least 11 people and left 20 missing in Mexico, officials said. It caused rivers to burst their banks and drag people into houses, while other victims were buried under mud and rocks.
Agatha made history as the strongest-ever hurricane to make landfall in May during the eastern Pacific hurricane season since 1949. Climate scientists say tropical systems will become more powerful and destructive because of global warming.