Posted on 23 Jul 2010
South Florida braced for heavy squalls Friday morning as Tropical Storm Bonnie neared the coastline, the National Hurricane Center said.
Bonnie remained a minimal tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 a.m. ET advisory.
The storm is moving toward the west-northwest at 19 mph and is centered 75 miles east of Marathon, Florida, and 80 miles south-southeast of Miami, Florida.
Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the northwestern Bahamas and the Florida east coast from Deerfield Beach southward, including the Florida Keys and Florida Bay.
A tropical storm warning was is in effect for the west coast of Florida as far north as Englewood. A tropical storm warning for the central Bahamas was canceled early Friday morning.
If Bonnie maintains its current strength as it emerges into the Gulf of Mexico, only slight intensification is likely before it makes landfall early Sunday along the Louisiana coast, the hurricane center said. It predicts its maximum sustained winds will reach only 50 mph over the Gulf.
But Bonnie is expected to hamper operations to contain the oil spilled by a broken well in the Gulf through Sunday evening and into early Monday, even if it weakens into a depression or tropical wave. The system will generate very choppy seas and gusty winds as it moves near or over the well on Saturday and Sunday.
The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm watch Friday morning from Morgan City, Louisiana, eastward to Destin, Florida.
A tropical storm watch means that tropical storm conditions are possible in the watch area within 48 hours. Tropical storm watches continue for the east coast of Florida north of Deerfield Beach to Jupiter Inlet, including Lake Okeechobee.
With the weather changing, BP has suspended work on a relief well to permanently seal the damaged well. And late Thursday, the federal official overseeing the effort, retired Adm. Thad Allen, ordered ships in the area to go to shore. That could delay operations at the well site for 10 to 14 days. But Allen said there's enough confidence in the well that it will be left capped and closed during the rough weather.
Ships used to skim oil off the surface are likely to have to come ashore as well. Currently, 215 are operating off the coast of Louisiana.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has issued an emergency declaration, intended to speed state help to parishes that need it after the storm hits. He said mandatory evacuations are not expected, but parishes might call for voluntary evacuations in some low-lying areas.
The weather system drenched the Bahamas and caused flooding in Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
In Monroe County, Florida, which covers the Keys, officials warned boaters to secure their vessels and remain in port until winds and seas subside. They warned drivers to use extreme caution on the Overseas Highway, especially on exposed bridges.
The hurricane center predicted the storm would bring 1 to 3 inches of rain to South Florida, with isolated areas receiving as much as 5 inches.
Tropical cyclones are classified as tropical storms when winds exceed 39 mph. Bonnie's winds have remained at 40 mph, barely above this threshold, since Thursday afternoon, and it is regarded as a minimal tropical storm.
Bonnie is interacting with strong upper-level winds that are creating a significant amount of shear, and this shear is expected to increase over the system as it moves toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Shear causes tropical systems to weaken, and shear caused the tropical cyclone to become less organized during the overnight hours. The storm could dissipate later Friday as it moves rapidly west-northwestward near 20 mph toward the Florida Keys.