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Tropical disturbance threatens eastern U.S.

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It took almost a month for any sign of a tropical threat to develop, but the National Hurricane Center says an area of disturbed weather designated as Invest 91L off the northeast Florida coast has the potential for turning into some sort of tropical system. As of Monday morning, the system was about 140 miles east of Melbourne.

Forecasters are giving the system a 60% chance of developing into at least a tropical depression by mid-week and an 80% chance of strengthening into a tropical system by the end of the week. The current course is a slow southwestward drift which might mean Florida's east coast could be at risk for some foul weather over the next few days. Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft are standing by to explore the area if forecasters decide they need a closer look.

Over the longer term, computer models show the system taking a northerly turn that could eventually steer it up the eastern U.S. coast. In his Monday morning blog entry Weather Underground founder Dr. Jeff Masters says the southeastern part of the Atlantic coast could get some very heavy rain. “Heavy rains of 2 - 4" will spread to coastal Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina on Thursday and Friday, and tropical storm conditions are possible along the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts on Thursday and Friday.”

As often happens, there are various factors working for and against 91L's development. Masters notes that computer models show the atmosphere around the area drying out during the week, potentially robbing it of the moisture that helps fuel tropical systems. Master's also notes that wind shear could slow development during the week. On the other hand, the storm could get a boost from the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, according to Masters.

Masters says the system could strengthen enough to become Hurricane Arthur by the end of the week. While a category 1 hurricane only packs top sustained winds of 75 miles an hour, every tropical system holds the potential of generating flooding from heavy rainfall and storm surge. Storm surge is an especially dangerous part of a hurricane's impact and everyone in coastal areas should take a moment to learn more about it.

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