By Freida Frisaro and Curt Anderson | Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tropical storm warnings were issued Friday for much of the Florida peninsula, Cuba and the Bahamas as a system that battered Mexico moves through the Gulf of Mexico, bringing threats of heavy rain and wind for the weekend.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm once known as Agatha in the Pacific Ocean will be known as Alex in the Atlantic Ocean basin, once it reaches tropical storm status.
A Friday evening advisory from the hurricane center said the storm had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, just above the tropical storm threshold but it remained labled “potential tropical cyclone one” because it had few other characteristics that define such storms.
At 8 pm, forecasters said the system was about 300 miles southwest of Fort Myers, Florida, moving at about 7 mph.
A Hurricane Center advisory said the system was expected to develop “a well-defined center and become a tropical storm” as it approaches Florida on Friday night and into Saturday.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said most government services, such as bus routes and trains, planned to operate as normal over the weekend. Some events have been canceled, she said, and while there is no widespread anxiety about the storm it might be best to make indoor plans.
“If it isn’t necessary to go out, it’s probably better to stay home,” Levine Cava said at a news conference Friday.
The mayor added that canal levels in South Florida have been lowered to minimize flooding from heavy rains.
The storm warning affects both Florida’s Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast, from just below Tampa Bay and Daytona Beach to the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. Parts of Cuba, including the provinces of Pinar del Rio, Artemisa, La Habana, and Mayabeque, and the northwestern Bahamas are also under a warning with tropical-storm-force conditions expected within 36 hours.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially began Tuesday. This is an unusually early start to the storm season but not unprecedented for Florida.
The National Hurricane Center predicts that rainfall up to 10 inches is possible in South Florida, including the Florida Keys. The storm is not expected to produce huge winds or major storm surge. But local flooding is likely and winds could be somewhat strong.
“Heavy rains will begin to affect South Florida and the Keys Friday and continue through Saturday,” the Hurricane Center said in an online post. Also predicted is storm surge and flooding, the severity of which depends on the timing of tides.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the forecast was somewhat unusual in that substantial rains were expected in southwestern Florida on Friday and windy but drier conditions on Saturday. “The rain is actually beating the wind” instead of the two coming together, he said.
“No one’s going into emergency posture” yet, DeSantis said, but authorities would monitor for a strengthening storm. “We’ve got to be ready no matter what.”