Atlantic’s Next Storm to Drift Into Energy-Rich U.S. Gulf

The Atlantic’s 18th storm is coming together off Florida’s eastern coast and will drift west into the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico over the weekend where it could reach nearly hurricane strength before coming ashore.

When the storm’s winds reach 39 miles (63 kilometers) per hour it will likely be named Sally. That would mark the earliest that 18 storms have formed in the Atlantic during a hurricane season, breaking the previous record set by Stan in October 2005, said Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the Colorado State University seasonal hurricane forecast. It is possible a second system in the far eastern Atlantic will be named first.

“The system is forecast to strengthen to near hurricane intensity by early next week as it moves across the northeastern Gulf of Mexico,” Eric Blake, a hurricane forecaster, wrote in his outlook.

“Dangerous impacts from storm surge, wind, and heavy rainfall will be possible along the Gulf coast from the Florida Panhandle to southeastern Louisiana this weekend and early next week,” he wrote.

The system is currently classified as a tropical depression with winds of 35 mph and is forecast to pass to the east of most off-shore oil and natural gas production areas.

The area was hit earlier this year by Tropical Storm Cristobal. In all, seven storms have hit the U.S. in 2020, including Hurricane Laura, which left a massive trail of destruction across southern Louisiana, and Hurricane Isaias that knocked out power to millions in the Northeast.

Conflicting weather patterns across the U.S. are making it harder than usual to pinpoint the storm’s exact track beyond 48 hours, the hurricane center said.

In addition to the depression, which has sparked a tropical storm watch in southern Florida, the hurricane center is watching three other potential storms — one in the Gulf of Mexico and two off the coast of Africa. On top of that, Tropical Storms Paulette and Rene are churning through the central Atlantic. Paulette will likely become a hurricane and could strike Bermuda Monday.

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