MANATEE -- Forecasters warn of the possibility of street flooding and beach erosion in Manatee County this week as a large weather system -- which forecasters said Wednesday could become the first tropical storm of the season in the Atlantic -- dumps heavy rain across the state.
The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for Manatee and surrounding counties through Thursday evening. Forecasters said rainfall totals of 4 to 7 inches are likely, with higher amounts possible in some areas.
"At least an inch a day through Saturday with more rain in isolated areas," forecaster Thomas Dougherty said. "We'll have some big numbers in the next few days."
As of 8 a.m. EDT, the National Hurricane Center said there is a "medium," or 50 percent chance, the system of thunderstorms and low pressure could become a tropical depression or storm as it turns northeasterly over north Florida on Thursday. An Air Force reconnaissance plane was scheduled to fly into the system Wednesday afternoon.
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A flood watch means that flooding is possible during the next 24 to 48 hours. Residents living in flood prone areas should take action to protect property, the Weather Service said.
Manatee County officials are keeping a close eye on the weather, said Steve Simpson, emergency operations manager with the Manatee County Department of Emergency Management.
"We're looking for rain, and possibly some flooding," Simpson said.
Dougherty described the system as a large, unorganized area of low pressure. "It doesn't have its act together yet."
"There are some things not working in its favor," Dougherty said.
The system will interact with upper-level winds as it moves north, which could tear it apart.
"In about 24 to 48 hours, we'll know more," he said Tuesday.
Dougherty said residents on barrier islands or low-laying areas should prepare for street flooding and possibly beach erosion.
Seas offshore are predicted to reach 10 feet by Thursday, causing 3- to 6-foot waves at the beach.
Simpson said county officials participated in a conference call with state officials Tuesday and are ready to react if conditions warrant.
Simpson said residents who encounter flooded roads this week should be extremely careful, particularly if the water is moving.
"Remember, that 1 foot of water can move a car. Six inches of moving water can knock a person off their feet," he said.
Even if a driver is familiar with the road, Simpson said, standing water can conceal damage to the road bed.
"You could run into a massive pothole that wasn't there," the day before, he cautioned.
Simpson said the rain will ease drought conditions and risk of brush fires. "There's always a positive side," to storms," he said.
Jim DeLa, East Manatee editor, can be reached at 941-745-0711. Follow him on Twitter @JimDeLaBH.