Fred is likely to impact Florida as a tropical storm
Despite looking disorganized on satellite, the tropical depression may strengthen back into a tropical storm before impacting Florida as soon as early Saturday, the National Hurricane Center predicts. All while, the next named system that could impact the US is forming in the Atlantic.
The forecast for Fred prompted tropical storm warnings Friday for the southwest Florida coast, including Key West and Naples. A tropical storm warning means tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area within 36 hours.
The warnings stretch from the Florida Keys west of Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas and all of Florida Bay. A tropical storm watch covers the southwest coast of Florida from Englewood south and east to Ocean Reef.
Fred on Friday afternoon was along the northern coast of Cuba with winds of 35 mph.
From there, “the storm should track just north of eastern and central Cuba through tonight and near or across the Florida Keys on Saturday,” says the National Hurricane Center.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a State of Emergency Friday for 23 counties, including Bay, Calhoun, Citrus, Dixie, Escambia, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Manatee, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Taylor, Wakulla, Walton and Washington counties.
After passing the Keys, the storm should move into the Gulf of Mexico and toward Florida’s Big Bend. Some computer models show Fred moving into the Florida Peninsula, while others put it as far west as the Alabama-Florida border.
“The models continue to show a slow strengthening of Fred before making landfall in the eastern panhandle or Big Bend area of Florida,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said midmorning Friday. “None of the global models take Fred to hurricane strength, but we all too often watch rapid intensification with Gulf of Mexico storms.”
Heavy rain continues to be the biggest threat
Heavy rain was falling Friday morning across eastern Cuba. Heavy rain is the main threat from this storm, as Cuba could see up to 5 inches of rain in some isolated areas.
Even heavier totals are forecast across Florida.
“Heavy rainfall could lead to flooding across southern and central Florida into the Big Bend region through the weekend,” CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar said.
“Much of the Florida peninsula is expected to be on the east side of Fred, which is where the heaviest rains and strongest winds will be,” the hurricane center said.
From Friday into Monday, 3 to 7 inches of rain is anticipated across the Keys and in southern and central Florida north toward the Big Bend, according to the hurricane center. In isolated spots, up to 10 inches could fall.
“Starting Sunday and through the start of next week, heavy rain will extend into other portions of the Southeast, including Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas,” Chinchar said.
Grace could be much stronger than Fred
And Fred isn’t the only Atlantic storm drawing attention.
“Kind of like everyone’s favorite player is the backup quarterback, many are already watching the next disturbance behind Fred,” CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
That tropical disturbance, several hundred miles east of the Lesser Antilles, has become better organized and is now Tropical Depression Seven, according to the National Hurricane Center. It is expected to strengthen into a tropical storm Friday night and will be named Grace.
This would be the seventh named storm of the season.
New tropical storm watches have been issued for the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, including Vieques and Culebra, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy. These come in addition to tropical storm watches issued Friday morning for Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Saba, and St. Eustatius.
A tropical storm watch means that tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area within the following 48 hours.
The storm is expected to move through the Leeward Islands Saturday night, impacting Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands on Sunday. Tropical-storm-force winds — of at least 39 mph — and three to six inches of rain are expected in these areas through the weekend.
“The secondary system has the potential to be a stronger storm than Fred,” Chinchar said. “Many models are hinting that Grace could reach hurricane status, potentially Category 2 or 3 strength. A lot of that will depend on the track that storm takes, which at least for now appears to be farther east than Fred.”
The forecast from the National Hurricane Center has the storm peak as a moderate tropical storm due to potential land interaction with Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, which would limit its potential intensity.
A lot can change over the next several days, and this is a storm to keep an eye on.
CNN’s Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.