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Heavy storms forecasted for area

Lazaro Aleman: Greene Publishing, Inc.

By now, what was a weather system that meteorologists were monitoring earlier this week just off the coast of the Florida Panhandle, could well have transformed itself into Barry, the second named storm of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, if the forecasts prove correct.

The low-pressure disturbance – which, fortunately for the Big Bend area, was drifting westward midweek – was expected to develop either into a tropical depression or a tropical storm by Thursday, with the potential of it striking the Gulf Coast on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Whatever the storm's path, however, it was expected to produce thunderstorms and torrential rains for the Big Bend region through early next week, with the possibility of flooding in some areas.

"Regardless of the eventual track and intensity of the system, heavy rainfall is expected from the Florida Panhandle to the Upper Texas Coast and extending inland across portions of the Lower Mississippi Valley, much of Louisiana and eastern Texas," the hurricane center advised early Thursday morning.

The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season officially began June 1 and runs through Nov. 30. It is projected to be "a near-normal" season, with the possibility of nine to 15 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher). Of the nine to 15 named storms, according to the National Weather Service (NWS), four to eight may become hurricanes, and two to four of these may turn into major storms.

Storms are classified as hurricanes when their winds reach 74 mph, and they become major hurricanes when their winds exceed 111 mph. At which point, they are classified as Category 3, 4 or 5.

The average hurricane season, according to the NWS, produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes and three become major storms.

The forecast for the current season derives from competing climate factors. One is El Niño, which is expected to continue, and as a consequence, lessen the hurricane season's intensity.

Countering El Niño, however, is a combination of warmer-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea and an enhanced west African monsoon, which together favor increased hurricane activity, according to the NWS.

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