Tropical system expected to form in the Gulf this week, bring heavy rains to Texas

It would be the first system of the hurricane season, which is expected to be very active despite a slow start.

By Shelly Brisbin & Rhonda FanningJune 17, 2024 4:42 pm,

This week, forecasters are saying that there’s a 70% chance that the first tropical system of the hurricane season develops in the Gulf, while landfall is expected in Mexico. The storm system is expected to bring heavy rains to Southeast Texas, too.

Justin Ballard, the Houston Chronicle’s newsroom meteorologist, joined the Standard to tell us what forecasters are saying we should look out for the next few days.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity: 

Texas Standard: Let’s talk about the short term. Sounds like you are going to be pretty busy. What are things looking like for Southeast Texas? 

Justin Ballard: So for Southeast Texas, things are looking to really ramp up as we get into Tuesday, Wednesday and even some of Thursday. Most of the activity – the flood risk, right, the heaviest rain – arrives Tuesday night into Wednesday for most of Southeast Texas. 

And when we’re talking about this area of projected heavy rainfall, how far out west are we going from, say, the Houston area and the suburbs? Of course, up in East Texas, they’ve been hammered already. 

Right. I mean, spots just north of Houston, we saw, you know, 20, 25 inches of rain plus during the course of the spring months. So obviously that’s an area that’s sensitive, especially given the recent rains over the last couple of months. But really the heavy rain is expected to kind of set up along and south of I-10, going all the way as far west as San Antonio, Austin.

And that’s a change from late last week’s forecasts, where the heaviest rain really looked to stay kind of in coastal areas of Texas. So more recent kind of forecast trends and guidance show the heaviest rain likely falling from basically Houston to San Antonio and Austin – I’m kind of lumping those two in together because they’re so geographically close points south. So you know, 5, 10 inches of rain. 

Sounds like we’re we’re most concerned about the wet stuff. Not so much the winds. 

Not so much the winds. Now, winds along the immediate coast will be gusty – you know, 30-40 mph, possibly even a little bit higher – but those will not be the main concern. The main concern, especially along the coast, will be coastal flooding, as well as rip currents and rough waves. 

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Let’s sort of pull back our telescope just a bit, because we’ve been hearing about updated predictions for hurricane season. What is the latest? 

It’s still looking like despite the fact that we’ve had a slow start – and I’m knocking on proverbial wood, right? – to the hurricane season, at least compared to, you know, the last 20 or 30 years, things are going to ramp up. And they always do, obviously, during the months of especially August and September.

So forecasting storms are anywhere from, you know, 20 to 25, according to Colorado State University’s most recent outlook, which was published – or kind of updated, I should say – last week. And that aligns very well with the National Hurricane Center’s outlook or NOAA’s outlook for a very active hurricane season. A lot of that attributed to the fact that La Niña is expected to emerge, which helps to reduce overall wind shear across the Atlantic basin, which helps to kind of favor those stronger and more intense tropical systems. 

I was going to say I’ve been hearing about a lot more storms. Is the intensity is supposed to be greater as well?

Yes. A lot of times when we see these kind of La Niña patterns, which is a cooling of equatorial waters off the coast of South America, you see less wind shear, which is the change of wind speed and wind direction with height, and that allows for thunderstorms contained within those hurricane winds to really kind of ramp up.

Couple that with really high sea surface temperatures, very warm waters, and it’s just kind of a recipe for what could be a very active hurricane season. 

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