System aiming at South Florida becomes Tropical Depression 16; could be Tropical Storm Nicole in hours
by Eliot Kleinberg
The system on a collision course with Florida, arriving as early as this afternoon, became Tropical Depression 16 at 11 a.m. today. At 2 p.m., top sustained winds were near 35 mph, just below tropical storm strength, and the system is expected to become Tropical Storm Nicole later this afternoon. But the official forecast calls for a 60 percent chance that Palm Beach County never will see tropical storm force winds. And the National Weather Service’s Miami office says there’s a “very low” chance. It says top sustained winds in Palm Beach County will be in the 25 mph to 35 mph range, with gusts up to 45 mph, although it said stronger winds still are possible depending on the system’s path.
A tropical storm warning is in place from Jupiter Inlet south to the Keys and a tropical storm watch north to Sebastian Inlet as well as for southwest Florida.
Also, a flood watch is set to be posted at 4 p.m. today and run through 2 p.m. Wednesday for Palm Beach County and points south. While heavy rains should start tonight, it’s most likely tropical storm force winds won’t affect Palm Beach County until Wednesday, if ever, the National Weather Service’s Robert Molleda said this morning. As much as 8 inches of rain could fall on South Florida, with the heaviest rains expected south and southeast of Lake Okeechobee, according to water managers at the South Florida Water Management District. They said Broward and Miami-Dade counties likely will see more rain than Palm Beach County.
The heaviest rains are expected late this afternoon and tonight and then overnight, with a good chance they’ll make Wednesday morning’s commute an unpleasant one. The center of the system was expected to near southeastern Florida by Wednesday afternoon and east of Boynton Beach around 8 p.m. Wednesday. The system should be gone by Thursday morning. National Weather Service forecaster Brad Diehl said. At 2 p.m., the depression’s center was about 370 miles south-southwest of Miami. It was moving north-northeast at 10 mph.
With the strongest winds east and south of the system’s center, if it stays right at or near the coast, tropical storm force winds would stay off shore, Molleda – warning coordination meteorologist at the weather service’s Miami office – said this morning. “Since it’s such a disproportionate distribution of wind and rain, if the system tracks offshore, even if it’s by a few miles, that’s the different between getting tropical storm force winds and not getting any at all,” he said. If the storm stays off shore, that also could reduce the projected deluge, Molleda said. But with the storm so close, and its status changing nearly hourly, “we’re walking a big of a tightrope,” he said.
Assistant Palm Beach County administrator Vince Bonvento said the county does not expect to go into full storm mode but is watching the storm’s progress. He said the county’s final budget meeting still is set to go on at 6 p.m. Palm Beach Schools officials said at midday they’ll decide later today whether the storm will affect schools on Wednesday. The system is forecast to dissolve into a front on Thursday. Post staff writers Christine Stapleton and Jennifer Sorentrue contributed to this report.