A strengthening area of low pressure tracking towards the northern U.S. Gulf Coast developed into Tropical Storm Cindy on Tuesday. Torrential rains from Louisiana through the Florida Panhandle will grab the spotlight, as destructive winds should not develop and coastal flooding remains minor. The 7:00 a.m. National Hurricane CenterMore
Less than 24 hours after the second named storm of Atlantic hurricane season formed, we have number three. Tropical Storm Cindy formed on Tuesday afternoon, continuing an active start to hurricane season.
The storm is packing winds up to 45 mph, but it’s unlikely to strengthen much before making landfall along the Louisiana-Texas border. Cindy will have parts of the Gulf Coast on high alert, however, as it’s expected to drop up to 12 inches of rain and cause minor coastal flooding when it roars ashore Wednesday night or early Thursday.
While Cindy has warm waters to tap into in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s also dealing with heavy wind shear from the west. That’s stretched the storm out from a classic hurricane shape into something that looks like a schmear of cream cheese on a bagel, a shape that brings both benefits and challenges with the forecast.
Coastal flooding will be minor. The deformed wind field means the storm won’t be able to gather enough energy to really push a massive storm surge ashore. That said, there’s still the risk of 1-3 feet of surge when Cindy makes landfall.
Areas about 100 miles from where the storm comes ashore will see the highest surge due to the shape of the storm. But the flooding only tells part of the story.
The real concern with this storm is flooding from heavy rain. Even more concerning is the fact that the cone of probability doesn’t show where the worst part of the storm will hit. That’s because the cone only shows where the storm center’s most likely track will be, not its impacts.
Because of Cindy’s shape, the most heavy bands of rain are on the east side and they’ll likely spin ashore over an area well outside the cone. A roughly 300-mile stretch along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle is likely to see 6-9 inches of rain. Up to a foot of rain not out of the question, raising the risk of flooding.
It was only 10 months ago that Baton Rouge and other parts of Louisiana were devastated by a slow-moving storm that dropped up to 2 feet of rain, underscoring how rapidly floodwater can swamp the already soggy region.
Cindy isn’t the only tropical system in the Atlantic basin right now. Tropical Storm Bret is also chugging through the eastern Caribbean, lashing the island nations there with rain and wind. This is the first time there have been two named storms in the basin at the same time in June since 1968. Though hurricane season starts on June 1, it doesn’t usually pick up until August and September when Atlantic waters are at their warmest.
This year’s first named Atlantic storm formed in April, marking the third year in a row a named storm formed before hurricane season officially began. Having storms form outside of hurricane season is not an uncommon occurrence.
Tropical Storm Cindy formed on the same day that the Senate confirmed the new Federal Emergency Management Agency head. Brock Long was confirmed by a vote of 94-5 on Tuesday to run FEMA. He was the director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and also served as a hurricane program manager with FEMA under President George W. Bush, according to his LinkedIn profile. He’ll get his first test less than 48 hours after being confirmed.
But while Long is in place at FEMA, there are still two crucial posts waiting to be filled at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA itself as well as the National Hurricane Center are both still run by acting directors. Not having full-time directors in place ahead of hurricane season means there could be a learning curve for whoever is nominated for those roles.