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Tropical depression forms in gulf

It's unclear just where the system will go, but it could give Florida a substantial amount of rain, forecasters say.

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  • Tropical depression forms in gulf
  • By MIKE BRASSFIELD

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 12, 2001


    A tropical depression that formed Tuesday in the Gulf of Mexico could become a tropical storm as early as Thursday, and is threatening to drench much of Florida over the next couple of days.

    But forecasters are having trouble predicting where the storm will go and how fast it will get there. In the worst-case scenario, a tropical storm could be pounding the Tampa Bay area on Thursday or Friday.

    The large, slow-moving tropical system was centered about 150 miles southwest of Tampa Bay on Tuesday. The storm's eventual path was uncertain because no strong atmospheric forces were steering it in a particular direction.

    "We're not certain yet where it's going to go because there's not too much to push it," said Barry Goldsmith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin. "It's either going to sit out there or it's going to be picked up and pushed northeast, over Florida and into the Atlantic. It could hit anywhere in the (Florida) peninsula. If it comes right across us, we'll have a pretty good dousing."

    The National Hurricane Center in Miami uses several different computer models to predict the path of tropical systems. But on Tuesday, the models disagreed on where tropical depression eight is headed.

    One computer model showed an upper-level trough of low pressure pulling the storm right across Central Florida. A second model showed the storm moving in the opposite direction, slowly drifting to the west and southwest. A third model predicted a path somewhere between the first two predictions.

    The official forecast track Tuesday showed the storm slowly curving toward Florida's Big Bend area over the next three days. But that forecast was actually a compromise between the computer models' differing predictions, said Richard Pasch, a forecaster with the hurricane center.

    Meteorologists think the storm's path may become more clear today.

    No matter where it goes, Florida is likely to get a lot of rain.

    The Tampa Bay area will be under a flood watch today, said Ron Morales, a National Weather Service forecaster in Ruskin. He predicted at least a 70 percent chance of rain over the next couple of days.

    "The main impact of this system appears to be the threat of heavy rain," Morales said. "We could have some coastal flooding and beach erosion, but that really is too tough to call right now. Whatever it's doing, it's going very slowly."

    Even if the storm does not head straight for Florida, it could send bands of rain over the state for days. If the storm does reach Florida, it could bring high winds and 4 to 8 inches of rain along a 50- to 100-mile swath, Goldsmith said.

    "We'll just have to see how it all plays out," Goldsmith said.

    At 5 p.m. Tuesday, the center of tropical depression eight was located near 25.5 north latitude, 84.2 west longitude. It was moving toward the west-southwest at about 5 mph.

    Also on Tuesday, out in the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Erin weakened to a Category 1 system,and Tropical Storm Felix formed. Neither appeared to be a threat to the United States.

    Erin, which once had 120 mph winds, was down to 90 mph as it headed north away from the United States on an arching route also expected to spare Canada.

    Felix was nearly 900 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, but conditions were not ideal for Felix to strengthen, and it was not expected to threaten any land areas.

    - Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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