Tropical Storm Cristobal getting stronger, aiming at US Gulf Coast (with forecast video)

Satellite animation of Tropical Storm Cristobal on June 3, 2020.

Tropical Storm Cristobal will crawl ashore today, continuing to pound parts of southern Mexico and Central America with life-threatening flooding rainfall. Then, Cristobal will track toward the U.S. Gulf Coast this weekend, bringing a threat of high surf, flooding rainfall, coastal flooding and wind damage.

SONAR Critical Events and satellite: Wednesday, June 3, 2020, 9 a.m. EDT; Tropical Storm Cristobal

Cristobal formed on June 2, earlier than any other Atlantic third-named storm on record. The record was previously held by Tropical Storm Colin, which formed on June 5, 2016. Last year, the “C” storm, Chantal, didn’t develop until August 20.

At 8 a.m. EDT today, Cristobal was centered in the Bay of Campeche, about 25 miles northwest of Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico, and was drifting southeastward at less than 5 mph. The storm’s maximum sustained winds have increased from 40 mph yesterday afternoon to 60 mph this morning.

Yesterday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued a tropical storm warning for the southern Mexican coast, from Campeche westward to Puerto de Veracruz. Tropical storm-force winds (39 to 73 mph) are affecting portions of the warning area. So, besides flooding, roadblocks are possible due to downed trees and power lines.

Cristobal was spawned, in part, by a large system called a Central American Gyre (CAG). The CAG is an area of counter clockwise (cyclonic) rotation around a broad area of low pressure, and can develop over Central America during the rainy season. Essentially, it’s a bunch of mini-disturbances rotating around the area of lower pressure.

Tropical Storm Amanda, an Eastern Pacific storm, was partially generated last week by the CAG. The remnants of what was Amanda turned into Tropical Storm Cristobal.

Eventually, upper atmospheric winds will steer Cristobal into the Gulf of Mexico this weekend. There’s plenty of fuel for Cristobal to maintain strength or even get slightly stronger, with sea surface temperatures of 80 to 85 degrees in much of the Gulf.

The latest forecast models show Cristobal making landfall south of Lafayette, Louisiana on Sunday night, June 7, with sustained winds of around 65 mph. However, it could hit farther west or east, anywhere from Galveston, Texas to far western Florida.

Early June storms like Cristobal tend to be lopsided, with significant impacts far from the track of the center. In this case, a plume of deep, tropical moisture from Cristobal could produce heavy rainfall well east of the center, as far east as the Florida Peninsula.

Also, increasing winds over the Gulf of Mexico will drive high surf to the beaches of the Gulf Coast, particularly to the east of the storm’s center, generating dangerous rip currents and coastal flooding. These far-reaching impacts are expected to increase beginning Saturday night, and may persist into early Monday, June 8. Wind damage may include scattered power outages, as well as roadblocks due to downed trees and utility lines, especially along the Interstate 10 corridor.

Cristobal’s intensity forecast is a bit complicated. It will interact with land in Mexico during the next couple of days. Just how far inland it will track in Mexico is a bit uncertain. The farther away it moves from the warm Bay of Campeche water, the weaker it may become.

Wind shear – the change in wind speed and/or direction with altitude – may increase as Cristobal moves into the Gulf of Mexico this weekend. Wind shear typically holds back intensification of tropical cyclones.

Gulf of Mexico water temperatures are currently warmer than average for early June and are warm enough to support tropical development, but they’re not as warm as mid-summer sea surface temperatures (SSTs).

SONAR Critical Events forecast: Tropical Storm Cristobal forecast

These factors should keep Cristobal from intensifying into a hurricane as it approaches the U.S. Gulf Coast. For now, the most likely scenario is a tropical storm landfall.

The forecast will be tweaked in the coming days. Look for updates on the FreightWaves website and social media accounts.

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