Residents should keep their eyes on the Gulf of Mexico this week as an unusual weather system moves south and could bring heavy rainfall this weekend, although forecasters say they’re anything but certain about where the system might end up.
“The takeaway right now is to make sure you are prepared ahead of time in case something does form,” said Jimmy Fowler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in League City.
Several Galveston County cities are already monitoring the possible disturbance, but no one expects to have much concrete information about its course until Wednesday or Thursday, which could give residents little time to make plans if it does veer toward the region.
“It’s too early to do much,” said Sarah Greer Osborne, spokeswoman for League City. “The European and American forecasts say two totally different things and it probably won’t be until Wednesday that we have a better idea.”
The city of Galveston is taking similar precautions, monitoring the weather for development, said Marissa Barnett, spokeswoman for the city.
“We will be doing pre-storm debris management starting later this week where we clean up anything that can blow or float that may impede drainage,” Barnett said. “We will also be working to clean any critical drainage infrastructure prior to the storms arrival. We still do not know what to expect from the storm but are anticipating rain and higher than usual tides.”
Essentially, a storm system is moving south through the Mississippi River Valley and could form into a tropical disturbance in the northern Gulf of Mexico sometime in the next few days, Fowler said.
That in and of itself is unusual, as most weather systems that become tropical disturbances form over the Caribbean or head toward the Gulf from Africa, Fowler said. But, while unusual, it isn’t unprecedented.
Because the system hasn’t even reached the Gulf, let alone formed, forecasters don’t have much confidence in predicting what might happen if it does form, Fowler said.
“Forecasts swing widely, from it impacting Corpus Christi all the way up through the Florida coastline,” Fowler said.
The National Hurricane Center gives the system a 30 percent chance of forming into a tropical cyclone over the next 48 hours and an 80 percent chance over five days, forecasters said.
“There’s not a lot of guidance as to what time rain might happen,” Fowler said. “It’s a slow-moving storm and, again, it’s way too far out to make real forecasts about what type of rain might get here.”
Fast-developing storms that leave people with little time to make plans aren’t unusual for hurricane season, said John Nielsen-Gammon, the regents professor of atmospheric sciences at the Texas A&M University College of Geosciences.
“That’s a challenge for places like Galveston,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “Oftentimes, places will have plans for what to do five, four and three days before a hurricane. But sometimes, you might not know until just two or three days ahead of time when a storm is even going to form in the first place.”
Hurricane Audrey in June of 1957, for instance, was a tropical disturbance in the southern Gulf that three days later made landfall in western Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane, Nielsen-Gammon said.
Part of the problem with predicting what might happen with this current system is uncertainty about what might happen once it reaches the Gulf, Fowler said.
“If it forms closer to the coastline and does not get into the deeper waters, that limits the strengthening of it,” Fowler said. “But if it goes farther south into the Gulf, it could get stronger. However, that’s all up in the air at the moment.”
If the disturbance does form into a tropical cyclone, it would be named Barry.