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Developing East Pacific tropical system to bring flood risk to Central America

By
Courtney Spamer, Accuweather.com

May 30 (UPI) -- Forecasters are focused on a brewing tropical system in the East Pacific, and depending on the path the system takes, it could be one for the record books.

The first tropical system of the 2020 East Pacific hurricane season developed back in late April, when Tropical Depression One-E formed well west of Mexico. This depression remained over water and did not make any impact to land.

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The next tropical system in the East Pacific could be a different story.

Approximately 250 miles southwest of southern Guatemala, a tropical low formed early in the week near what meteorologists call a gyre, or a large area of disturbed weather. This disturbance has become more organized in the past several days.

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The center of this low is expected to creep closer to the Guatemala coast into early next week.

"As this low continues to churn over the warm waters off the coast of Central America, it will have a slight chance to intensify into a tropical depression or even tropical storm," said AccuWeather's lead tropical meteorologist Dan Kottlowski.

Should the system reach tropical storm strength, it would be given the name Amanda.

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However, the closer the system gets to the coast, the better chance that the mountainous terrain of Central America shreds the system and limits how strong it can become.

Whether it intensifies or not, the combination of the tropical moisture already pushing through the region and the tropical low will bring rounds of heavy rain from the Panama-Costa Rica border to Guatemala through the weekend.

Downpours will also spill northward through much of southern Mexico.

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Any downpour is likely to be heavy and could produce 2 inches of rainfall in just a few hours. Areas that receive days of this much rain are likely to experience flash flooding and, in the mountainous terrain, mudslides.

More than 2 feet of rain can fall into early next week. This is enough rain, when combined with the rugged terrain, to lead to life-threatening conditions from flash flooding and mudslides.

At this time, forecasters say the low should meander northward towards Guatemala, remaining mostly parallel to the country's shores. After that, the exact path of the storm is somewhat uncertain. The low could stall and drift westward this weekend, or, depending on how close the low gets the coast, wobble northeast and make landfall in the region.

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In anticipation of the approaching tropical low, the President of El Salvador issued a "Yellow Alert" for a possible tropical depression.

"If the system were to make landfall in Central America, anywhere from Costa Rica to Guatamala, it would be quite rare," Kottlowski said.

AccuWeather meteorologists will continue to monitor waters on either side of Central America in relation to the lingering and still developing gyre.

"There is some potential for a system to develop during the first or second week of June on the Caribbean and southern Gulf of Mexico side of Central America and the northern and eastern side of the gyre," according to AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

While tropical systems often track near Central America, or even make landfall along the coast with the Caribbean Sea, a landfalling Pacific system is much less common, only occurring twice in the last 10 years.

The last tropical system to do this was Tropical Storm Selma, which formed late in October 2017. Selma was the first ever tropical storm to make landfall in El Salvador.

Tropical Storm Alma formed off the coast of Costa Rica in late May 2008 and drifted northward to make landfall in Nicaragua. It was the first tropical storm ever to do so on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua.

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Two other notable storms have made landfall in Central America since the turn of the century. Adrian made landfall in Honduras as a tropical storm in 2005, while Tropical Storm Agatha made landfall in Guatemala in 2010.

The same gyre set to create the next tropical system in the Eastern Pacific could be powerful enough produce additional tropical activity in the coming weeks.

"A tropical gyre is just a large slowly spinning area of disturbed weather, that can be as wide as a 1,000 miles in diameter. When they form over Central America, they can create extra moisture to spawn tropical development on the Atlantic side or the Pacific side or sometimes both," said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Because of this, AccuWeather meteorologists will also be monitoring the waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico and the western Caribbean very closely for tropical development through the middle of June.

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