Trop­i­cal Storm Maria forms even as Tampa Bay craves nor­mal life.

The trop­i­cal storm will likely hit dam­aged is­lands, but U.S. im­pact is un­clear.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - Times staff and wires

Trop­i­cal Storm Maria formed Satur­day af­ter­noon in the At­lantic, threat­en­ing to pound is­lands al­ready hit hard by Irma with an­other hur­ri­cane early this week.

Po­ten­tial im­pacts on Florida, still reel­ing from Hur­ri­cane Irma, are un­cer­tain. Maria, which is ex­pected to be­come a hur­ri­cane, joined Hur­ri­cane Jose and Trop­i­cal Storm Lee in a busy and de­struc­tive trop­i­cal sea­son.

The Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter fore­cast­ers said Maria will likely bring dan­ger­ous winds, more storm surge and heavy rain to parts of the Lesser An­tilles. Satur­day af­ter­noon, hur­ri­cane watches were is­sued for An­tigua, Bar­buda, St. Kitts, Ne­vis, and Montser­rat. Trop­i­cal storm watches were is­sued ear­lier in the day for other is­lands in the chain.

By mid­week, the Vir­gin Is­lands and Puerto Rico could again face fierce winds with Maria ex­pected to be­come an­other ma­jor hur­ri­cane. Watches could be is­sued for the is­lands as early as to­day.

It is not yet clear what im­pact Florida and the United States might face from the storm. Model pro­jec­tions so far out can of­ten be hun­dreds of miles off. But an early run of the Euro­pean model, which re­li­ably tracked Irma, takes the storm to­ward Florida. Oth­ers curve it away.

Dustin Nor­man, a Na­tional Weather Ser­vice me­te­o­rol­o­gist, cau­tioned against read­ing too much into the storm just yet.

“Cur­rently, there is pretty good model con­sen­sus in it go­ing into the Lee­ward Is­lands and, un­for­tu­nately, go­ing into the same is­lands that were af­fected by Irma,” Nor­man said. “Be­yond that point, it kind of be­comes fuzzy.”

He noted that many of the mod­els have Maria curv­ing north and stay­ing east of the Florida penin­sula. The main ar­eas of con­cern in the near fu­ture would be Puerto Rico and His­pan­iola, po­ten­tially the south­ern Ba­hamas.

“We def­i­nitely don’t want peo­ple to start freak­ing out about Maria just yet. It is so far out,” Nor­man said, sug­gest­ing Tampa Bay area res­i­dents con­tinue fo­cus­ing on Irma cleanup.

Satur­day evening, the storm was lo­cated about 620 miles east-south­east of the Lesser An­tilles and mov­ing west at a quick 20 mph. Sus­tained winds reached 50 mph.

The sys­tem be­came much bet­ter or­ga­nized Satur­day af­ter­noon, fore­cast­ers said, as it moved over warm trop­i­cal wa­ters and en­coun­tered light wind shear. Air around the storm is also very moist. Those con­di­tions shouldn’t change in the com­ing days, they said, likely al­low­ing Maria to con­tinue to pick up steam.

The storm is now mov­ing along the out­side of a high pres­sure ridge. But that ridge is ex­pected to weaken. That should slow the storm and cause it to head to the north­west.

In his blog Satur­day, Weather Un­der­ground me­te­o­rol­o­gist Jeff Masters said the storm could ap­proach the United States by next week.

Masters said the storm’s path could be in­flu­enced by Hur­ri­cane Jose, cur­rently hun­dreds of miles east of Florida and mov­ing to­ward the coast of New Eng­land.

As for Jose, which once also ap­peared headed for Florida, Nor­man of the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said not to worry.

“Jose is a non-is­sue for us, other than higher wave and rip cur­rent on the east coast,” he said. “Maria will be the one that will mon­i­tor closely.”

Trop­i­cal Storm Lee, mean­while, re­mained even less of a threat, swirling far east in the At­lantic and mov­ing west­ward at 10 mph with no in­crease in strength.

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