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Florida Within Cone Of What Could Become Tropical Storm Fred

Florida is within the National Hurricane Center's "cone of uncertainty" as a system that could soon become Tropical Storm Fred enters the Caribbean.

Puerto Rico is under a tropical storm warning as Potential Tropical Cyclone 6 moves on a path toward Cuba, and possibly toward Florida’s west coast by this weekend.

Tropical storm warnings are also in effect for the Virgin Island and portions of Caribbean, according to the hurricane center.

As of Tuesday at 5 a.m., the system — which would become the sixth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season — was located about 330 miles east-southeast of Ponce, Puerto Rico, and had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph with higher gusts. It is moving to the west-northwest at 17 mph.

Ray Hawthorne, a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, says the disturbance is likely to become Tropical Storm Fred later Tuesday.

"The environment is conducive for some strengthening [Tuesday] into early Wednesday,” Hawthorne said. “However, it's likely to pass near mountainous Hispaniola later on Wednesday and experience some wind shear later this week, which should prevent this system from becoming too powerful in the coming few days."

Hawthorne said the forecast track takes the potential tropical cyclone near Cuba or South Florida on Friday night into Saturday, when an increase in squally weather is possible depending on the track and strength of the system.

It could cause direct effects over a portion of Florida over the upcoming weekend.

Forecasters say the storm could take an eerily similar path as Tropical Storm Elsa last month, heading northwest then curving to the north and placing it just off the coast of Tampa Bay by this weekend.

Light upper-level winds and warm water temperatures are likely to favoring strengthening Tuesday into Wednesday morning. However, it is likely to pass near the mountainous island of Hispaniola later Wednesday morning and afternoon, and should be close to Cuba Thursday and Thursday night. These islands will disrupt the circulation and are likely to cause some weakening or prevent additional strengthening, at a minimum, as it passes near these islands.

An upper-level trough of low pressure over the Bahamas is expected to impart southwesterly wind shear over the system Thursday and Friday. Most computer models forecast this upper low to move into the eastern Gulf of Mexico and weaken somewhat this weekend and early next week.

Still, it is likely to cause south or southwesterly wind shear over top of the developing tropical cyclone, which should prevent the disturbance from becoming too intense.

If it reaches the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which presently appears likely, then the system could strengthen early next week even with wind shear working against it. There is a low chance of tropical storm force winds over South Florida, but if they do occur, they would first arrive late Friday night or Saturday morning.

An increase in rain chances appears probable this weekend, regardless of the storm's strength. It is too soon to predict whether other areas in Florida may experience wind or rain from this developing system.

The National Hurricane Center is not presently outlining any other areas in the tropics for development. However, some computer models are forecasting an uptick in activity over the next couple of weeks coinciding with the climatological peak of hurricane season and a favorable pattern unfolding over the Atlantic Ocean.

Florida Public Radio Emergency Network meteorologist Ray Hawthorne contributed to this report.

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Carl Lisciandrello