A tropical depression formed Wednesday just south of Puerto Rico, a sign the tropics might be stirring from a happily slumbering first half of hurricane season.
The system, which forecasters at the National Hurricane Center expected to strengthen into Tropical Storm Gabrielle by Wednesday evening or early Thursday, was initially projected to remain well off the coast of Florida. But another tropical wave trailing the depression could affect its path and added uncertainty to the forecast.
“It’s too early to tell what, if any, impact it would have on Florida or the U.S. East Coast,” said NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen, “with the emphasis on ‘if any.’ ”
The depression did pose a definite threat to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic. Winds were relatively weak at 30 mph but the disorganized system could still dump 3 to 6 inches of rain over wide areas in its path, with up to 10 inches in spots. The deluge could trigger potentially dangerous flooding and mudslides, particularly in Puerto Rico, which already has had heavy rain throughout the summer. Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands also could get rain and strong winds in the next few days.
Forecasters gave the depression little chance of strengthening into the season’s first hurricane, saying it will encounter more hostile atmospheric conditions while crossing eastern Hispaniola and moving from the Caribbean Sea and into the Atlantic Ocean in the next few days.
At that point, they expect an upper level trough digging down across the southeastern United States to steer the storm into the open Atlantic. But a second, larger disturbance a few hundred miles northeast could act to slow the depression and at least potentially alter its course.
While South Florida appears likely to avoid tropical storm impacts, it may still see rain this weekend. The same trough likely to ward off likely-to-be Gabrielle also will increase rain chances locally, said Brad Diehl, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Miami.
The NWS projects a 50 percent chance of rain Saturday and 40 percent Sunday, with mostly inland storms scattered across the region. Diehl said it was too soon to say whether there might be soggy conditions for the much-anticipated University of Miami versus University of Florida football game Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.
“With anything at this time of the year, you have to have a wait-and-see attitude,’’ he said.