A tropical wave, designated 90L by the National Hurricane Center, is worthy of being watched by the Gulf Coast states. This system is arguably the first tropical system of real interest to the Gulf states in the U.S., as Tropical Storm Arlene was regarded as a Mexican storm (correctly so) almost from its inception, and Tropical Storms Bret and Cindy were never a threat to any land areas. However, 90L is in a situation that will strongly favor its reaching the Gulf of Mexico, where conditions are favorable for development.
The system has been steadily increasing its convection over the course of the day, and with this increase has come an improvement in its cyclonic structure. Cyclonic curvature is evident on satellite (Fig. 1), and upper-level divergence (Fig. 2) indicates good ventilation for the system. Lower-level convergence (not shown) is not so impressive, indicating that the system needs to form a strong low-level circulation to be considered a tropical cyclone. This is usually the last step that developing tropical cyclones take.
90L is in a simple steering regime, being located south of the Bermuda High. In about 3 days, a trough associated with a cyclone is expected to be located off the East Coast of the U.S., eroding the high somewhat. It was previously assumed that this temporary weakening of the ridge would result in 90L being drawn north for a recurvature. However, recently, it has become likely that the trough will be weaker than previously believed. 90L is also expected to take longer to develop owing to shear and likely land interaction. The net result will be a stronger ridge and a weaker tropical system, and the consensus is that 90L will be forced into the Gulf of Mexico (Fig. 3).
90L will have to pass through an area of 20-knot wind shear (Fig. 3, Fig. 4), which is moderate, but will inhibit strengthening for as long as the system is located under that wind regime. The GFS model does not indicate a sharp spike in wind shear over the course of 90L’s trek toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Unless the expected path drastically changes, 90L should enter the Gulf in about four or five days. Models are unreliable for storms like this in the long range, and it should be noted that some of the models, like the GFS, are not particularly impressed with this system in the first place. However, the cyclone-specific model HWRF does develop 90L into a 60 mph tropical storm, keeping it south of Cuba by the end of its run (126 hours out). For my part, I am disinclined to accept a forecast of zero land interaction at this point. However, the salient point is that any interaction with Cuba or Hispaniola will have a profoundly negative effect on 90L’s short-term intensity even if it becomes a tropical storm before reaching those areas, and avoiding those landmasses will result in a stronger cyclone that has not been delayed by a reorganization after being disrupted.
My gut forecast for a week or more out (in other words, break out the salt!) is that this system will become a tropical cyclone of moderate intensity (I’ll say Category 1, max, because of mild levels of shear in the Gulf even though the temperatures are well over 90 degrees in many areas) and that it will make landfall somewhere west of Pensacola. I will have updates about this system if it continues to be a concern.
Figure 1: Shortwave infrared satellite of 90L, late Friday night
Figure 2: Upper-level divergence for 90L, late Friday night
Figure 3: Google Earth overlay of model tracks and shear for 90L, late Friday night
Figure 4: Wind shear tendency, late Friday night