Weather watchers are tracking ominous activity in the Gulf of Mexico. An Air Force Reserve helicopter is on standby, ready to fly to a spot off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula where a storm system is building steam.
Forecasters predict the unnamed storm – the first major tropical storm of this year's hurricane season – could make landfall later this week. The National Weather Service has said there is a 90 percent chance the storm system will become a tropical storm.
“We still have plenty of time to watch it,” says Alan Shoemaker, a meteorologist for KRGV Channel 5 News, the ABC affiliate in the Rio Grande Valley. He says the eye of the storm is approximately 800 miles from Texas and estimates that it won’t be until Thursday that Texas residents could begin to feel its effects.
The predicted landfall area remains broad, stretching from South Texas to either side of the Florida coast, and Shoemakers says computer models have yet to determine the storm’s exact path. It could either head toward Louisiana and Florida or travel west and make landfall along the Texas coast.
“The more reliable computer models are trying to push [the storm] farther west,” Shoemaker says. “If a storm does come this way, you want to be prepared even if it doesn’t become a hurricane … [because] it doesn’t even take a hurricane to do major damage.”
He points to Tropical Storm Allison, which pounded Southeast Texas with heavy rain in 2001 and caused major flooding in Houston, as an example of the damage tropical storms can inflict.
Shoemaker advises residents in the Rio Grande Valley and those along the Texas coast to be prepared.
“It’s always better to be safe than sorry,” he says. “When you’re dealing with tropical systems, especially, they can flare up sometimes at the last minute even if you’re not expecting them to – sometimes they can go from weak tropical storm to a hurricane in less than a day.”
Written by Molly Smith.