Fall weather is coming to Tampa Bay. But hurricane season is not over yet.
A wave of fall weather is expected to ease into the Tampa Bay area early next week, which could give residents hope that the tropical activity inherent in a Tampa Bay summer is behind us.
But before dreams of brisk breezes get out of control, there’s a problem: There’s just more than a month left in hurricane season, and this week forecasters are monitoring two active disturbances in the Atlantic Ocean.
Even as the season draws to a close, the threat of more severe weather, like the tornado that tore through parts of Pinellas County on Thursday, is becoming more likely as we head into the El Niño winter.
“Some of the most active severe weather events in the past have occurred during El Niño winters,” said Kyle Hanson, Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist.
El Niño, which begins around June, is usually a cause for celebration in Tampa Bay. This often means less tropical activity and fewer storm threats in the summer. However, warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean have negated much of El Niño’s ability to dampen activity.
In August, forecasters at the Hurricane Center increased the chances of an above-normal hurricane season, now predicting as many as 21 named storms.
Tropical Storm Sean this week became the 19th named storm of the season, and in addition, forecasters were watching a second system on Friday in the eastern Atlantic that will likely become a tropical depression next week.
Forecasters expect Shawn to weaken into a tropical depression by Saturday. The area of disturbed weather behind Shawn will likely move westward across the central and western Atlantic and become a tropical depression sometime next week.
The Hurricane Center gives the system a 70% chance of developing over the next week.
The system still has a week or two before forecasters determine its final path, said Nicole Carlisle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office.
Neither system poses an imminent threat to Earth, but they are a reminder that fall weather does not signal an immediate end to tropical threats.
“It’s always good to keep an eye on things because the water is still warm out there, so storms can form,” Carlisle said.
Around the same time, a tropical depression will likely form in the Atlantic Ocean, and a cold front will plunge into Tampa Bay. By Monday, high temperatures across Tampa Bay are expected to only reach the 70s, and low temperatures will drop into the 50s in some northern areas. The weather will be similar on Tuesday before high temperatures for the rest of the week return to the 80s.
“The cold air settles in, and it takes a minute to get there, but Monday and Tuesday, that’s what we’re looking at,” Carlisle said. “And then we get a gradual warm-up over the rest of the week.”
This winter could be colder and wetter than we have typically experienced over the past few years, as El Niño tends to lead to those conditions in Florida. It also creates a greater threat of severe weather.
On Thursday, tornadoes touched down in Pinellas and Citrus counties, damaging homes and buildings across the region. The Weather Service classified both tornadoes as EF2s, which can produce wind speeds of up to 135 mph.
Hanson said these powerful hurricanes are not typical for Tampa Bay. However, it is an example of the more extreme weather that can occur during an El Niño-induced winter in this region. He said he expects storm chances to increase with strong winds, thunderstorms and some short tornadoes.
“What we saw yesterday was a very strong system for us, even in an El Niño year, but I expect more severe weather opportunities throughout the winter,” Hanson said.
As for what cold air could be in store this winter, it’s a relative term in Florida, Hanson said. Florida likely won’t see bouts of freezing weather, but more days of high temperatures won’t get out of the 60s.
“We have a lot of different storm systems, low pressure systems tracking Florida, and that typically leads to a rainy season,” Hanson said. “In terms of how warm or cold it is, we are usually colder simply because we have more clouds, and more rain.”
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