Two tropical systems could threaten the Gulf Coast at the same time

Fires and smoke continue to threaten the western US, and tropical systems strengthen and head towards the US. CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam has the forecast.

Posted: Aug 21, 2020 9:57 AM
Updated: Aug 21, 2020 1:56 PM


Gulf Coast residents need to pay attention as not one, but two tropical systems could impact the area in the coming days.

The first system to watch is Tropical Depression Thirteen (TD-13), which is about 505 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands.

Tropical storm watches have been issued for St. Maarten, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, Saba and St. Eustatius. Additional watches were posted for Culebra and Vieques in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands and St. Martin and St. Barthelemy.

The second system, Tropical Depression Fourteen (TD-14), is about 100 miles east-southeast of the Honduras-Nicaragua border. A tropical storm warning has been issued in Honduras from the border with Nicaragua westward to Puerto Castilla. A warning is posted in Nicaragua from Puerto Cabezas northward.

This storm is expected to become better organized later Thursday, meaning an upgrade to tropical storm is likely to occur in the next 24 hours.

"Regardless of development, this disturbance will likely produce heavy rains across a large portion of Central America and southeastern Mexico late this week and this weekend," the National Hurricane Center says.

Later Thursday, an Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft is scheduled to investigate TD-14, which will give forecasters a better look inside the system to determine whether it will be upgraded to a tropical storm.

An extra focus on the Gulf of Mexico

Interestingly, TD-13 and TD-14 are headed to the Gulf of Mexico. The next two names on the list are Laura and Marco. Which depression gets Laura, and which one gets Marco depends only on which storm develops faster.

"The longer-term forecast for TD13 looks to be complicated by the presence of another tropical system [TD 14] in the Gulf of Mexico next week," said CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller. "Another tropical system spinning in the Gulf will make the forecast track less certain, as tropical storms and hurricanes in close range of each other can alter the winds in the atmosphere and influence each others' tracks."

So have we ever had two tropical storm strength systems simultaneously in the Gulf of Mexico before?

It has been 60 years since it has happened, said tropical researcher Phil Klotzbach. That occurred on June 18, 1959, to be exact.

"On that date, we had an unnamed tropical storm (e.g., added after the season) and Beulah," Klotzbach said. "We have never had two hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico simultaneously."

As of now, these systems are still several days away from impacting the US, so there is a lot that could change. However, since there are two systems at play here, essentially everything from Texas to Florida is an option.

We are still weeks away from peak of hurricane season

TD-13 and TD-14 are both expected to become tropical storms in the next few days. When that happens, they would be the fastest 12th and 13th storms to form, breaking additional records for most storms this early in the season. To have had so many named storms this far before the peak is unprecedented.

What's more concerning is that 85% of major hurricanes (Category 3 and above) occur after August 20.

"We typically do not have 11 named storms until November 23, across the Atlantic Ocean," said CNN meteorologist Haley Brink. "Come peak hurricane season in September, the prevailing tropical storm tracks increase across the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, in addition to storm formation originating off the coast of Africa."

Above-average sea surface temperatures are providing the necessary fuel for the development of tropical cyclone formations. An enhanced La Niña Watch was also issued last week, which could also contribute to enhanced hurricane activity.

There are a lot of comparisons out there to the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. Not only is this year's hurricane season currently on pace to match the number of named storms in 2005, it also happened to be a year where La Niña developed in the autumn.

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