Storm watches posted for Florida as system moves into the Gulf

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Tropical storm watches were issued Thursday for Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas as the system that hit Mexico moves eastward.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm once known as Agatha in the Pacific Ocean will be known as Alex in the Atlantic Ocean basin.

In Florida, the tropical storm watch extended from Longboat Key on the Gulf Coast across the southern Florida peninsula, including Lake Okeechobee, which is still at a flood hazard. The lower Florida Keys were included in the storm watch.

The Cuban government has issued a tropical storm watch for the provinces of Matanzas, Mayabeque, La Habana, Artemisa, Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth, according to the US National Weather Service.


The surveillance area also included the northwestern Bahamas.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially began on Tuesday. This is an unusually early start to storm season, but not unprecedented for Florida.

The National Hurricane Center predicts that rainfall of up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) is possible in parts of South Florida from this storm, which is not expected to produce high winds or major storm surges. Nevertheless, flooding is likely and winds could be quite strong.

The Hurricane Center said the system’s maximum sustained winds as of Thursday afternoon were around 35 mph (55 km/h) with higher gusts. It is expected to become a tropical storm on Friday, which means stronger winds, but not to hurricane levels.

“Heavy rains will begin to affect South Florida and the Keys on Friday and will continue through Saturday,” the Hurricane Center said in an online post. Storm surges and flooding are also expected, the severity of which depends on the timing of the tides.

As a Pacific storm, Hurricane Agatha brought flooding and mudslides that killed at least 11 people and left 20 missing in Mexico, officials said. It caused rivers to overflow and swept people into homes, while other victims were buried under mud and rocks.

This storm is now heading towards Florida.

Agatha made history as the strongest hurricane on record in May during the Eastern Pacific hurricane season since 1949. Climatologists say tropical systems will become more powerful and destructive due to global warming.

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An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that tropical storm warnings were in effect instead of tropical storm watches.

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