Tropical disturbance bound for Texas could form cyclone by Saturday

Sept 11, 2018
In this NOAA satellite image from Monday, a tropical disturbance seen in the lower left corner is threatening to become a cyclone this week. Meanwhile, Hurricane Florence, right, continues to travels west and gain strength in the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)

With all eyes on Hurricane Florence as it inches its way toward the Carolinas on the East Coast, another disturbance is brewing closer to home in the Gulf of Mexico, and it could mean trouble for Texas later this week.

The tropical system, which had not been named yet, was off the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday. Forecasters gave the disorganized storms a 50 percent chance of developing into a cyclone by Thursday and a 70 percent chance of forming one by Saturday.

The National Hurricane Center was urging people in Texas and Louisiana to monitor weather conditions in the coming days.

“We just don’t know how strong this system is going to get, we don’t know the exact path of it, there is a lot that is up in the air,” National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Platt said. “We just want people to stay aware that there is a good chance it will develop into something.”

University of Texas meteorology lecturer Troy Kimmel said waters in the Gulf of Mexico are warm right now, which means that if a storm does form, it could intensify quickly. So far, upper-level winds haven’t been conducive to cyclone formation, but that is expected to change, he said. As a result, meteorologists are watching the system closely.

“Once it gets into the western Gulf in those areas, it doesn’t have much time before it sneaks up on the state of Texas, whatever it happens to be,” Kimmel said. “Maybe a tropical depression, maybe a tropical storm, it’s impossible to say at this point. It may come to shore as a giant wave. If it maintains the movement we expect, we are in for more rain.”

The greatest chances for showers in Austin are on Friday and Saturday.

Between 2 to 3 inches is forecast to fall through the weekend, but that estimate could depend on what happens with the tropical system, Kimmel said. If a cyclone forms and moves into Texas, that could spell trouble for areas already saturated from several days of steady rainfall.

Galveston already has gotten 11 inches of rain this month, according to the National Weather Service. A quick shot of heavy rain in Galveston could mean flooding there and in other areas soaked this month.

Lago Vista near Lake Travis has picked up more than 6 inches of rain since Sept. 3. Georgetown has gotten 4.63 inches, and Austin’s main weather station at Camp Mabry recorded 3.15 inches, weather service data shows.

“Certainly, we are a little wetter than we have been over the past months,” Kimmel said. “Additional rainfall, especially if it comes very quickly, could begin to cause some flooding issues.”

The rain is helping to ease drought conditions in parts of Texas, meteorologists have said.

“We could certainly use some more,” Kimmel said. “But we want it to be a slow, soaking rain, so the ground has the chance to absorb it instead of running off.”