AccuWeather: June 30, 2020 – The third named storm of the Atlantic season is expected to move out over open water after delivering life-threatening flooding to parts of Mexico.
Tropical Storm Cristobal unloaded flooding rainfall and made landfall in southern Mexico on Wednesday, and AccuWeather meteorologists are busy looking ahead to where the storm may go after meandering across southern Mexico.
The storm is expected to take a northward turn, and it could gain strength over the Gulf of Mexico prior to reaching the southern United States coastline.
Cristobal has already set records in the Atlantic basin.
It became the earliest-ever third named tropical storm to form in any Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history on Tuesday.
The previous storm to hold that record was Tropical Storm Colin, and it developed during the midday hours of June 5 in 2016.
Typically, the third named storm does not brew until way later in the season, occurring on average around Aug. 13. Last year, the third storm of the season, Tropical Storm Chantal, developed months later on Aug. 20.
The disturbance first developed as a depression over the Bay of Campeche in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico on Monday, June 1, the first official day of hurricane season.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) confirmed that Cristobal made landfall in the state of Campeche near Atasta, Mexico, and just to the west of Ciudad del Carmen at 8:35am CDT Wednesday.
The storm’s maximum sustained winds were 60 mph with higher gusts occurring.
Cristobal is forecast to complete a loop over land in southeastern Mexico as it straddles 83-degree-Fahrenheit waters of the Bay of Campeche into Friday.
AccuWeather meteorologists predict up to 30 inches of rainfall in the region.
“There is a small chance the system will break up over southern Mexico late this week, but the more likely scenario is for the storm to survive, move back out over the warm waters of the central Gulf of Mexico, reorganize, strengthen and turn northward toward the U.S. from Friday night to Sunday night,” said Dan Kottlowski, AccuWeather’s top hurricane expert.
Kottlowski has been predicting tropical weather for 43 years at AccuWeather.
“We believe Cristobal will weaken to a tropical depression for a time over Mexico at midweek,” Kottlowski said.
If Cristobal moves a bit south over Mexico, it will interact with hills and mountains over the region.
“This stronger land interaction would cause the lower-level part of the storm to unravel, making it more difficult for it to recover once it starts to move back northward,” Kottlowski said.
“On the other hand, if the storm stays near the coast and near the source of moisture, it will retain its circulation and is more likely to rebound faster once turning northward at the end of the week,” he explained.
“Forward motion of Cristobal will be slow initially, but the system is likely to gain forward speed later this weekend.
“Provided Cristobal does not get beaten down too much by interaction with Mexico, there is a chance the storm strengthens to a hurricane over the central Gulf of Mexico later this weekend, prior to reaching the US.”
The current window of where predicted landfall is most likely extends from the upper Texas coast to the Mississippi Panhandle, putting central Louisiana in the middle of that zone late in the weekend or early next week.
At this time, a repeat of Hurricane Harvey from August 2017 or Katrina from 2005 does not appear likely for the US. Harvey moved inland over Texas and lingered for days, unloading several feet of rain and extreme flooding in the Houston area.
Hurricane Katrina caused devastating flooding in New Orleans as it moved inland over Louisiana, after becoming a monster Category 5 storm in the Gulf of Mexico. Katrina weakened prior to landfall but maintained major hurricane status as a strong Category 3 storm and dealt the region a catastrophic blow 15 years ago.
Still, even with a strong tropical storm or minimal hurricane that maintains forward speed as it moves inland over the South can still unload several inches to a foot of rain, which is enough to lead to urban and low-lying area flooding as well as rises on area rivers and bayous.
Should Cristobal remain a tropical storm or a minimal hurricane, the danger from flooding, waves and winds would be substantially less than if a Category 2 or 3 hurricane was moving inland.
Typically, the greatest storm surge and coastal flooding occurs near the center to several dozen miles to the east of the point of landfall. However, bays and shallow waters as well as flat land areas can contribute to a substantial increase in the storm surge effect.
As winds increase with the strengthening storm, seas over the Gulf of Mexico are expected to transition from choppy to very rough this weekend. Waves propagating outward from the approaching and strengthening storm will lead to building breakers and an increase in the strength and number of rip currents as well as beach erosion.
An uptick in rip currents can occur in some coastal areas of the US as early as Friday night and Saturday.
But BWS meteorologists noted that “this system may move closer to Bermuda after this time period depending upon its track”.