A tropical disturbance that has been meandering over the Caribbean since the weekend is forecast to drift northwestward toward Florida and may gather some strength along the way this week.
The disturbance, which is also referred to as a tropical wave, has the potential to become the fourth tropical depression of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season and may go on to become a tropical storm as the week progresses.
As of Monday afternoon, the disturbance was showing some weak circular motion with its cloud mass.
Should this organizing trend continue, a depression could be born with maximum sustained winds of less than 39 mph.
This image of the eastern Caribbean Sea shows the mass of clouds near Puerto Rico on Monday. Photo courtesy of NOAA/Satellite
"Waters are sufficiently warm for tropical development in the Caribbean," according to AccuWeather meteorologist Brett Rathbun.
"However, there is some wind shear in the path of the disturbance and its forecast path takes the center just south of Puerto Rico and near Hispaniola at midweek," Rathbun said.
Hispaniola is one of the largest islands in the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic, which shares the island with Haiti, has mountains as high as 10,200 feet.
Image of the terrain in the Dominican Republic. Photo by Pixabay
The drag exerted by the islands of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, combined with wind shear, may be enough to keep the feature from organizing.
The same rugged terrain can squeeze out copious amounts of moisture in the form of drenching showers and gusty thunderstorms.
While disturbances such as this can provide beneficial rainfall to the islands in the path, often too much rain falls too fast and results in flash flooding and mudslides.
Other concerns include the risk to small craft in the region. Sudden squalls produced by the budding feature can quickly raise seas and winds.
Beachgoers should keep an eye out for rapidly changing weather conditions when away from shelter at the beach.
Beyond the Caribbean
Should the feature survive the encounter with Hispaniola, conditions may be such to allow for organization and strengthening as it moves northwestward through the Bahamas and approaches the Florida Peninsula during the second half of the week.
Wind shear is forecast to be somewhat lower north of Hispaniola to just southeast of Florida.
"Assuming the system has held together or has organized, wind shear is forecast to increase right near and northeast of Florida late this week and into this weekend," Rathbun said.
Not only may this cause the system to weaken, it may also steer it to the northeast and out to sea over the western Atlantic.
How close to Florida the system gets and how organized it gets is uncertain during the period from Friday to Sunday.
Scenarios range from the feature curving away just east of the peninsula to tracking right over the peninsula to wandering a bit farther west and briefly into the Gulf of Mexico.
The system will encroach on a front that stalls and weakens in the Southeastern states and along the mid-Atlantic coast with a swath of drenching showers and thunderstorms.
How much rain falls on the Florida Peninsula later this week will depend on the track and strength of the system and if it holds together in the first place.
A tropical depression or storm that stays just east of Florida may create a pocket of dry, hot air for a time over part of the peninsula. The same strength of a system that heads westward across the peninsula may bring drenching downpours and locally severe thunderstorms.
Interests from Florida and the Bahamas to the northern Caribbean should monitor the progress of this disturbance that is under investigation by the weather community.
Waters are sufficiently warm along the projected path of the feature. So it is possible that if it overcomes the pockets of wind shear and friction from land areas, development can occur at any time during a flare-up of thunderstorm activity near the center.
Vast areas of wind shear and dry air have been largely inhibiting tropical development over the Atlantic basin this season so far, which is often the case.
However, as August progresses, these inhibiting factors tend to shrink in size, and water temperatures peak over the basin.
Tropical waves that emerge from the west coast of Africa become the leading source of tropical storm formation during the heart of the hurricane season, which peaks in September.
A tropical wave typically emerges from Africa every two to four days during the heart of the season.
Should the disturbance reach tropical storm status, the next name on the list in the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season is Chantal.