Satellite image Gulf of Mexico disturbance, captured at 10 am ET on Monday May 14.
Image: NOAA/RAMMB

We’re still a few weeks out from the official start of hurricane season, but tropical cyclones don’t care much for regulation. That’s why there’s a small chance one could spin up off the Florida Panhandle this week.

A large, low pressure area filled with clouds and thunderstorms has developed across the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, and it’s marching slowly northward toward the west coast of Florida. As it moves across warm Gulf waters and gathers strength over the next 48 hours, it has about a 30 percent chance of getting organized into a cyclone.

Over the next five days, those odds rise to 40 percent, according to the National Weather Service.

Weather Underground meteorologist Bob Henson told Earther that in all likelihood, any cyclone that does form would be classified a tropical or subtropical depression, with maximum sustained winds of 38 mph or less. But, he added, there’s a “small chance” of a named tropical or subtropical storm, one featuring wind speeds of 39—73 mph.

“I wouldn’t rule it out, it’s just on the lower side of the probabilities,” Henson said, noting that water temperatures are a bit marginal right now.

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Regardless of how fierce the storm gets, Floridians are going to feel it. The entire Florida Peninsula could be in for heavy rainfall this week, with eastern Florida around Kennedy Space Center expected to see up to seven inches of precipitation. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing—central and South Florida are coming off a particularly dry dry season, with more than 30 percent of the state in moderate to severe drought as of May 8.

“This will slowly alleviate some of the drought conditions,” Henson said, adding that there’s also some concern about localized flash flooding.

Predicted rainfall totals for 7-day period ending on May 20.
Image: National Weather Service

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The system has already brought record rainfall to the Florida Keys. By yesterday evening, Key West had notched 3.24 inches of precipitation—more than double the previous May 13 record in logs going back to 1871.

On the off chance that the Gulf of Mexico does get a named storm this week, that’d be pretty special. Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach told Earther via email that since 1851, only four named storms have formed in the Gulf of Mexico in May. The last one was in 1976.