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Budding Tropical Storm Nestor to target northwest Florida

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Oct. 18 (UPI) — A budding tropical system in the Gulf of Mexico, that could soon form into the 14th named system of the Atlantic hurricane season, has officials in the southeastern United States on alert as forecasters warn the system could trigger dangerous storm surge flooding, damaging winds and heavy rain.

The tropical threat, which will be named Nestor if it reaches tropical storm strength, was traveling quickly northward through the Gulf on Friday morning at 21 mph. It has maximum sustained winds of 40 mph and was located about 300 miles south-southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

A U.S. Air Force Hurricane Hunter Aircraft is expected to fly into the Gulf later Friday morning to gather additional information on whether the storm has reached subtropical or tropical status. AccuWeather meteorologists caution that the system will continue to fight dry air and wind shear, two factors that can inhibit growth of tropical system.

AccuWeather’s Chief Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said that tropical development can occur anytime into Saturday. Current forecasts project that the center of this feature, whether tropical, subtropical or non-tropical in nature, will head toward the Florida Panhandle and make landfall sometime early Saturday.

The National Hurricane Center began issuing advisories for Potential Tropical Cyclone 16 on Thursday morning due to the system becoming more organized. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for portions of the northern Gulf Coast of the United States, from the Mississippi-Alabama state border to Yankeetown, Fla.

A storm surge warning has been issued for the Florida Panhandle and northwestern Florida.

Significant wind shear and dry air blown into the storm from the west may be the only factors that prevent the system from rapidly developing into a strong tropical storm or hurricane before it reaches the United States.

Strong winds from the west and southwest aloft will force the storm to move along at a swift pace and limit its exposure to warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm is then likely to continue to move northeastward across southern Georgia and then along the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts over the weekend.

“This system has the potential to bring heavy rainfall, damaging winds and a coastal storm surge to parts of the Florida Panhandle and northwestern Florida during Saturday morning,” Kottlowski said.

Near and north and east of the center, from late Friday to early Saturday, winds may gust in the neighborhood of 40 to 60 mph. Isolated tornadoes can also occur on the northeastern side of the storm.

As the storm moves swiftly along, strong gusts are likely along the Carolina and Virginia coasts form Saturday to early Sunday.

Similarly, a storm surge of several feet is possible, due in large part to the shape of the coastline in the area. This part of the Florida coast tends to trap and funnel water inland during approaching storms.

While these conditions will be highly dependent on the strength and exact track of the storm, the storm does not have to be tropical in nature for significant impact to occur.

Seas and surf will build over much of the Gulf of Mexico into the weekend with the most significant increase in waves and frequency and strength of rip currents throughout the Florida Gulf coast.

Small craft should consider remaining in port from Friday to Saturday over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico and during the day Saturday along the Atlantic coast from northeastern Florida to the Virginia capes. Sunday should bring much better boating, fishing and bathing conditions.

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