Update 4pm EST:
We finally have a model consensus. The 12z suite all flipped to Florida, and at this point in the game, they are more than likely correct. Had Debby’s center been but 50 miles farther southwest this morning, it would have been different. 50 miles is all it took, and that’s why this has been such a tough forecast. Debby’s northeast movement into the Florida panhandle will be lethargic, and although she likely won’t be able to become a hurricane, the copious amounts of rainfall in the sunshine state will more than make this a very dangerous storm.
The plot thickens this morning as Debby drifts slowly northeastward in the NE Gulf of Mexico, bringing tropical storm conditions the Florida panhandle. Debby still has an exposed center due to southwesterly wind shear, though the circulation has become better-defined overnight. Winds are around 60mph, a strong tropical storm, and Florida will be dealing with heavy rains and strong winds for the next couple of days regardless of Debby’s track. If Debby moves NE into the Florida coastline during the next 48 hours as depicted by the GFS, wind shear due to the proximity of a shortwave trough to the north will likely keep Debby below hurricane strength. However, if a turn to the west occurs and Debby has 3-4 days over water, upper-level conditions will likely improve due to an upper low backing southwestward in the western gulf, and hurricane intensity would be likely at some point.
Debby’s track forecast is even lower confidence this morning since the 0z runs of the UKMET, CMC, and ECMWF all made shifts to the east. The ECMWF and UKMET still turn Debby westward but then lift her northward into Louisiana. The GFS and some other hurricane models take her northeastward into the big bend of Florida. I am not ready to give up on a westward turn based on one model cycle, and it will be enlightening to see today’s 12z and tonight’s 0z runs, which I will likely be posting on the Facebook feed as they come in today. The NHC track last night showed a Texas landfall, but as of 11am EST has shifted to Louisiana following the ECMWF. My forecast philosophy remains that the plains ridge will build far enough east to stall Debby for the next couple of days in the NE Gulf of Mexico with little movement, and an eventual turn towards the west, just south of the Louisiana coastline, though perhaps closer than expected before. I’m not sure I buy the track northward into Louisiana directly into the ridge, and this track may be simply a product of the models finding a middle ground while fighting over the west or northeast tracks. However, as with all of the track possibilities we have with this storm, it cannot be discounted, and as I have had to say over the last few days, the entire north gulf coast should be prepared for a possible landfalling tropical storm or hurricane within the next few days. Florida will be dealing with tropical storm conditions regardless of what happens. This is perhaps the most difficult track forecast we will have to make this entire year. I will continue updating as the situation evolves. You can keep up with my short update posts here.
We shall see what happens!
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