Florida’s Gulf Coast on alert as tropical depression forms in entrance to Gulf of Mexico

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 33 counties Saturday as Florida prepared for a tropical depression forecast to head toward the state’s Gulf Coast.

The latest tropical depression formed a little after 4 p.m., and chances continue to increase that the system in the Caribbean headed to the Gulf of Mexico will form into a tropical storm, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“Issuing this order today ensures communities have time to prepare for the storm system which could have impacts along the Gulf Coast next week,” DeSantis wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The state of emergency does not currently include Broward, Palm Beach or Miami-Dade counties.

Meanwhile, Franklin became a hurricane that could reach major hurricane strength next week.

The developing tropical system in the northwestern Caribbean, an area of low pressure with shower and thunderstorm activity, continued to show signs of organization on Saturday.

Its odds of developing as of Saturday morning increased to 90% in the next seven days and 90% in the next 48 hours. The forecast path has it curling north toward Florida’s Gulf Coast by Tuesday or Wednesday.

“Environmental conditions appear conducive for further development of this system during the next several days, and a tropical depression is likely to form late this weekend or early next week while it moves generally northward over the eastern Gulf of Mexico,” forecasters said. “Interests in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, western Cuba, and Florida should monitor the progress of this system.”

In its 2 p.m. Saturday advisory, the hurricane center said showers and thunderstorms associated with the area of low pressure over the northwestern Caribbean Sea were increasing. Earlier in the day, forecasters said it was becoming better organized. The area of pressure is expected to move slowly north toward the southeastern Gulf.

Heavy rains are likely over western Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, forecasters said.

The system is likely to develop into a tropical depression by late this weekend or early next week.

The next named storm to form would be Idalia (pronounced ee-DAHL-ya).

The 33 counties included in the state of emergency are Alachua, Bay, Calhoun, Charlotte, Citms, Columbia, DeSoto, Dixie, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hamilton, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lee, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor, and Wakulla Counties.

The National Weather Service issued a statement on Friday recommending that Florida residents be ready for a soaking, which may start as early as this weekend.

“I’ve directed @KevinGuthrieFL & the FL Emergency Management team to prepare for a potential tropical system currently moving across the Yucatán Peninsula,” Gov. Ron DeSantis posted Thursday night on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter. “Residents should remain vigilant and prepare for possible impacts early next week.”

On Friday, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis added his voice to the warnings to be prepared if the system intensifies.

“As Floridians are well aware, tropical storms are often unpredictable and can strengthen quickly,” he said in a news release. “I am urging Floridians to prepare now and to heed all watches and warnings from state and local officials. If a tropical storm is formed, it could make landfall Tuesday or Wednesday of next week with the potential to drop heavy amounts of rain which can lead to flooding.”

The reminders to be prepared come just as the state opens its second “sales tax holiday” of the year for hurricane-related supplies. Florida’s “disaster preparedness” tax holiday starts Saturday and continues through Sept. 8.

The Caribbean disturbance is one of four systems the hurricane center is keeping tabs on, including Tropical Storm Franklin. A potential tropical wave was added to that list on Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Franklin became a hurricane Saturday morning and could become a major hurricane early next week, while forecasters monitored the remnants of Tropical Storm Emily and a fourth disturbance in the central Atlantic.

Franklin strengthened into a hurricane, forecasters said in the 11 a.m. advisory, the second hurricane of the Atlantic season. Hurricane Don formed in late July but was no threat to land. Franklin’s path does not show it making landfall either, as it moves along the Atlantic near the east coast of the U.S.

Franklin's path as of 11 a.m. Saturday. (National Hurricane Center)
Franklin’s path as of 11 a.m. Saturday. (National Hurricane Center)

As of 11 a.m. Saturday, Franklin was moving north-northwest near 7 mph about 315 miles east-northeast of Grand Turk Island and 620 miles south of Bermuda. It is expected to continue moving north-northwest with steady strengthening over the next few days, and could become a major hurricane early next week, the first major hurricane this year.  Hurricane-force winds extended up to 10 miles from the center of the storm and maximum sustained winds had increased to 75 mph.

The storm is expected to move to the west of Bermuda on Monday and Tuesday.

Remnants of Emily

The hurricane center had been watching the remnants of Tropical Storm Emily for redevelopment, but its 8 p.m. update Friday said they were absorbed into an area of low pressure about 1,000 miles east-northeast of Bermuda. It is no longer expected to redevelop.

African coastal system

The disturbance several hundred miles to the east-northeast of the far eastern Caribbean could develop into a tropical depression early next week. It is expected to move northwest over the central tropical Atlantic.

The hurricane center said the disturbance’s circulation had become better defined, and conditions may be conducive for development this weekend. The system could slowly develop into a tropical depression by early next week. It is expected to move into the central tropical Atlantic.

As of 2 p.m. Saturday, it had a 20% chance of developing within 48 hours and 30% within seven days, slightly lower than earlier in the day.

Tropical wave off coast of Africa

Forecasters are also monitoring a tropical wave forecast to move off the west coast of Africa early next week. As of 2 p.m., it had a 20% chance of forming in the next seven days.

The National Hurricane Center has been predicting an “above-normal” 2023 hurricane season as a result of ongoing record-breaking sea surface temperatures that continue to fight off the tempering effects of El Niño.

While sea surface temperatures have remained hot for longer than anticipated, El Niño’s effects, which typically reduce hurricane chances, have emerged more slowly.

The NHC, which operates under the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, has forecast 14-21 named storms, including 6-11 hurricanes, and two to five major hurricanes.