Update at 1 p.m. Thursday
A broad weather system slowly drifting over the eastern Yucatan Peninsula became better defined Thursday and the U.S. National Hurricane Center indicated a very high likelihood of tropical formation over coming days.
While the worst of the system is not expected to directly impact the Cayman Islands, heavy rainfall is forecast until early next week across the northwestern Caribbean. Once the system reaches the southeastern Gulf of Mexico late Saturday, it is expected to form into a subtropical or tropical depression.
The threat of rip tides will be high along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Louisiana, where current NHC mapping indicates the storm will make landfall.
The probability of formation over the next 48 hours was increased to 70 percent by the NHC Thursday afternoon. The chance of formation over five days was forecast at 90 percent.
If necessary, an Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft will investigate the storm Friday afternoon.
The Cayman Islands National Weather Service maintained a small craft warning, with moderate to rough waves expected to reach 4 to 6 feet in height.
The official start of Atlantic hurricane season is still a week away, but the Caribbean may be gearing up for an early storm. The National Hurricane Center in Miami identified a low pressure system off the coast of northeastern Belize Wednesday that could develop into a storm over the next five days.
The NHC’s Atlantic Tropical Weather Outlook on Wednesday morning stated there was a 0 percent chance the system would form into a cyclone within 48 hours, but a 60 percent chance it could do so within five days.
The system is expected to move north over the next few days and could hit a danger zone once it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. Allan Ebanks, a meteorologist with the Cayman Islands National Weather Service, said the system is unlikely to develop into anything until the end of the week.
“Within the next two or three days, it’s slowly going to move itself northward,” Mr. Ebanks said. “It’s not until it gets into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico that it’s seen as having some higher potential to become a possible depression. As it sits right now, given its proximity to land and not much of any thundershower activity around it, its very weak and its upper-level support is not there as well.”
The official start of Atlantic hurricane season is on June 1, and it runs through Nov. 30.
The NHC’s outlook on Wednesday morning said that locally heavy rainfall could develop over western Cuba and the Cayman Islands over the next few days and over Florida and the northern Gulf Coast by the weekend. But Mr. Ebanks did not see heavy rainfall in Cayman’s immediate future.
“We will continue to get cloudy and rainy conditions basically for the balance of the week,” he said. “Not too much heavy rain. It’s mainly cloudy conditions with intermittent showers and also light rain most of the time. It’s not until Friday where we’re expecting more scattered showers and thunder.”
Cayman has been buffeted by inclement weather for the last few days, and Monday played havoc with incoming airline schedules. Two incoming Cayman Airways flights were diverted from Grand Cayman, causing five-hour delays for a pair of outgoing flights from Owen Roberts International Airport to Miami.
All afternoon flights heading into Little Cayman and Cayman Brac were affected by delays – some of which lasted up to three hours – and two were ultimately canceled. Cayman Airways added an extra jet for service to and from Miami, and Tuesday’s flights operated largely on schedule.