June 4, 2020

Flooding Likely Along Gulf Coast And Miss. Valley As Cristobal Strengthens This Weekend


Tropical Storm Cristobal made landfall near Ciudad del Carmen in southern Mexico on Wednesday after several days of meandering and strengthening in the Bay of Campeche. The system will remain inland until Friday evening, when forecasters expect it to reemerge over the Gulf of Mexico and slowly strengthen as it heads for the northern Gulf Coast. The system will bring heavy rain, gusty winds, and a risk for tornadoes to portions of the Southeast and Midwest early next week.


The center of what's now Tropical Depression Cristobal spent Thursday moving along the Mexico/Guatemala border at walking speed. The storm is quite ragged looking now, having lingered over land for about a day now. The system will begin lifting north toward the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, reemerging over open waters by Friday night.

The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center shows the system regaining some of its strength and making landfall along the northern Gulf Coast as a tropical storm on Sunday or Monday. While folks near the point of landfall will likely see the strongest winds and greatest potential for storm surge flooding, this will be a large system and the potential for flooding will extend many hundreds of miles from the center of the storm.

Rain


It's been raining for days in some parts of Central America and southern Mexico—remember, this system originally made landfall on Sunday as Tropical Storm Amanda over in the eastern Pacific—and some communities have measured several feet of rain as a result. Widespread flooding and mudslides will continue until the system lifts away this weekend.

We won't see that kind of intense rainfall in the United States, but this is a juicy storm and it's going to rain quite a bit across areas affected by Cristobal. The Weather Prediction Center's latest forecast calls for up to half a foot of rain along the Gulf Coast. It's easy to trace the predicted path of the storm by following the swath of heavy rain from the Gulf to the Midwest through the first half of next week.

Heavy rain that falls too quickly will lead to flooding issues in vulnerable areas. Flooding accounts for most deaths in a landfalling tropical storm. We've been through this time and time again in the last couple of years. The messaging should be driven home by now: the wind gets all the headlines, but it's the water that causes most of the problems.

Wind

While it's the water that causes the most problems, we can't completely ignore the threat for wind. Meteorologists warn severe thunderstorms for wind gusts of 60 MPH. A tropical storm with sustained winds of 60 MPH at landfall will certainly do some damage to trees and power lines, as well as blowing around objects outside that could cause injury or damage. The rain-soaked soil will make it easier for trees to come down in gusty winds.

Tornadoes

Tornadoes are a threat with any landfalling tropical system. The greatest threat for tornadoes lies in the right-front quadrant of a tropical system—in this case, to the east of the center of circulation. If the storm follows its projected path, a threat for tornadoes will exist on Monday and Tuesday in eastern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and possibly the Florida Panhandle.

Rough Seas

Rough seas across the Gulf of Mexico will lead to an increased threat of rip currents from Texas to Florida. A rip current is a swift channel of water that moves from the shore to the sea, induced by waves that hit the coast head-on.

Rip currents don't suck you under like you see in movies—they pull you out away from land. Folks susceptible to drowning include inexperienced swimmers or folks who quickly get exhausted from trying to fight against the pull. If you're ever caught in a rip current, it's wise to do one of two things:

1) swim parallel to the shore until you've left the current, then swim back toward shore, or;
2) calmly signal for help.

Rip currents often look appealing to swimmers since they look like oddly calm sections of the beach amidst otherwise raucous waves, but the calm you're seeing is the channel of water retreating out to sea.

It's always a good idea to check the rip current forecast and make sure it's safe to swim. The National Weather Service offers regular rip current forecast for shores in their service areas, and most public beaches post warnings when dangerous rip currents are possible.

[Satellite Image: NOAA]


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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I ran Gawker's The Vane for two years and I've contributed to Mental Floss, Forbes, Popular Science, and the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang. I also teamed up with Outdoor Life to write a book called The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, which came out in October 2015.

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