MANATEE -- A massive, rain-gorged area of disturbed weather extending from the Yucatan peninsula northeast across the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and into Florida has the potential to create flooded streets and severe traffic problems in Manatee and Sarasota counties through early next week.
The National Weather Service is predicting a cumulative total of 5 to 7 inches of rain could be logged in the area through next Tuesday, and those amounts could even get higher if the system turns into a tropical storm, as some models predict.
"It has a 50 percent chance of becoming tropical," said John McMichael, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The swath of severe weather would be named Tropical Storm Debbie if the winds inside it in
crease to 39 mph.
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Also alarmed by the weather models seen on its computers, the Florida Division of Emergency Management Thursday released a statement urging residents and visitors in central and south Florida to stay alert and use caution on area roads because of the threat of heavy rainfall through early next week.
"Abundant tropical moisture moving into the state may bring thunderstorms to much of Central and South Florida over the next several days and high rainfall totals could lead to flooding concerns," said state meteorologist Amy Godsey.
"It's important that all Floridians heed warnings from the National Weather Service and local officials, and remember to 'Turn Around, Don't Drown' when approaching a flooded roadway," the state news release added.
Gusty winds and lightning also are possible within thunderstorms that are expected to develop, Godsey said.
While there is no Tropical Storm Debbie yet, some of the computer models from the National Weather Service in Ruskin are predicting that the trough will consolidate into a tropical storm.
"Conditions are favorable for development," McMichael said. "Warm Gulf temperatures and no wind sheer are two things that might cause it to form into a tropical storm. Again, that has not happened yet."
Besides the flooding, weather experts are cautioning residents and visitors about ultra-high humidity for the next few days.
"Especially for visitors, it will feel very oppressive outside," McMichael said.