Wild Weather From the Midwest Could Spawn a Tropical Storm in the Gulf of Mexico This Week

Clouds go boom.
Gif: Colorado State University

The second tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season could arrive from an odd source: Missouri.

Storms sweeping across the Midwest to start the week have now stalled out on the Gulf Coast, exploding into towering thunderstorms. The National Hurricane Center is forecasting they’re likely to spin further out into the Gulf of Mexico and that they’re likely to organize into a tropical storm or depression within the next five days. The agency is urging “[i]nterests along the Gulf Coast from the Upper Texas coast to the western Florida peninsula” to keep an eye on the system that could be a prolific rainmaker.

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The meandering path of would-be Tropical Storm Barry—the name of what would be the second tropical cyclone of the Atlantic hurricane season—is an odd one. Most tropical systems in the Atlantic start in, well, the tropics either off the coast of Africa or in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean.

But in what has become a recurring theme for the Midwest, rain battered the region over the weekend. The low pressure system associated with said rain then swept into the Southeast and is now camping on the Gulf Coast of Georgia and Alabama. And while the thunderstorms popping off in the GIF above might not look like much at this point, they’re the precursors to what could be Tropical Storm Barry.

Over the coming days, the National Hurricane Center expects the system to find conditions “conducive for tropical cyclone formation” as the storms feed on the warmer-than-normal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. As of Tuesday morning, the agency is calling for an 80 percent chance of the storms becoming a tropical cyclone within the next five days. The storm is expected to begin taking a jaunt back to the west over the Gulf of Mexico while mirroring the coastline in the coming days as it organizes.

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It’s a bit early to talk about how strong would-be Barry could be since it hasn’t even formed yet. Ditto for where it would make landfall, especially since much of that will depend on where the ridge of high pressure expected to build over the Midwest settles. But it is pretty safe to say it will drench parts of the Gulf Coast with rain. Capital Weather Gang’s Ian Livingston notes that up to a foot of rain is possible, though “there are scenarios that could deliver more than that.”

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A tropical storm getting its beginnings in Missouri may seem odd, but Space City Weather meteorologist Matt Lanza told Earther in a Twitter direct message that it “happens more often than people would assume.” Lanza pointed to a tweet from Michael Lowry, a tropical storm expert who works at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, noting that while 50-60 percent of Atlantic tropical cyclones start near Africa as series of thunderstorms, that still leaves a good chunk with other origins. Storms with screwball starts like potential Tropical Storm Barry have happened before.

“I think the takeaway with this one is rather than this being a unique event, it’s a unique forecast because we’ve known for days that this would emerge from Central U.S. thunderstorms,” Lanza said. “Just another example of how far the science of meteorology has progressed.”

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Lanza pointed to Hurricane Alicia, a 1983 storm that similarly dropped out of the Southeast into the Gulf of Mexico where it organized and trotted westward. The storm slammed into Galveston as a major Category 3 hurricane. More recently, 2008's Tropical Storm Edouard started as a trough of low pressure dropping into the Gulf.

And Lanza also highlighted the 1943 Surprise Hurricane, a real weirdo not just due to the track but because what he said was its “super colorful history due to World War II.” The storm forecasts were censored due to suspected German U-boat activity in the Gulf. It was also the first storm ever sampled by reconnaissance aircraft that were the precursor to modern day Hurricane Hunters that fly into storms.

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Speaking of, the National Hurricane Center is likely to dispatch flights in the coming days to get a better handle on what’s going on in the Gulf.

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