Gulf Coast preparing for tropical storm that hasn’t quite formed yet

The system swirling in the central Gulf of Mexico has reached tropical storm status and gained a name: Cindy.

It was earlier called “Potential Tropical Cyclone Three” before it developed a well-defined center of circulation Tuesday afternoon, the threshold at which it can be called a tropical storm.

But tropical storm watches and warnings had already been issued for portions of the Gulf Coast. That was done Monday afternoon, even though there wasn’t yet a named storm, thanks to new policies in place at the National Hurricane Center which allow forecasters to issue full advisories — including a forecast track and watches and warnings — for storms that could form and impact land within 48 hours.

In the past, even if the hurricane center thought a system had a high chance of developing, it couldn’t issue watches and warnings. This new policy allows residents and businesses to have more time to prepare for storms that form near the coast.

Even if it’s not a hurricane, it will still pack a punch

The disturbance already had winds of 45 mph, but satellite and aircraft data now indicate that the storm has a well-defined center.

Cindy is moving to the northwest and should reach the coast by late Wednesday or early Thursday. However, residents all along the Gulf Coast are being urged not to focus on the exact track of the storm. Strong wind shear — the change in wind direction and speed with height — in the region will keep the system on the weaker side.

With weaker storms, the center is far less important, but the heavy rainfall is projected to have a widespread impact. Heavy rain is already impacting the central Gulf Coast and many areas will receive 4 to 8 inches, with some places topping a foot. The most torrential rain is likely to be to the east of the center of the storm, because these areas will see a prolonged period of onshore flow.

Having two named storms simultaneously in June is a rarity

Cindy is one of two storms currently in the Atlantic. Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Bret formed on Monday. Much like Cindy, there were watches and warnings in place before Bret was named.

According to Colorado State University research scientist Dr. Phil Klotzbach, this is the first time since 1968 that the Atlantic has had simultaneous storms during the month of June.

Bret impacted Trinidad and Tobago with heavy rain Monday night and continued to affect the northern coast of Venezuela. This southern track is relatively rare.

The southern Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao are under a tropical storm watch. The storm will impact these areas Tuesday night into early Wednesday.

The good news for anyone vacationing in the southern Caribbean is that Bret is scurrying along and the effects will be short-lived. The fast movement, combined with dry air from land and high wind shear over the Caribbean should lead to the dissipation of the storm during the middle of the week.