Tropical Storm Fred formed on Tuesday night just south of Puerto Rico, and was approaching landfall early Wednesday afternoon in southeastern Dominican Republic as a low-end tropical storm with 45 mph winds.

Overnight, Fred brought heavy rain showers and gusty winds to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and portions of the Leeward Islands, but there were no reports of damaging flooding. Highest 24-hour rainfall amounts ending at 8 a.m. EDT Wednesday in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were less than three inches (Figure 1). La Romana, near where Fred was making landfall, recorded sustained winds of 35 mph at 10 a.m. EDT Wednesday.

Figure 1. Precipitation for the 24 hours ending at 8 a.m. EDT Wednesday, August 11, 2021. (Image credit: NOAA/NWS)

2021 falls well behind 2020 record pace for Atlantic named storms

After setting a record for the earliest appearance of a season’s fifth named storm (Elsa on July 1), 2021 has fallen well behind the record pace of 2020, which ended with an astounding 30 named storms. Last year, the season’s sixth named storm (Fay) formed on July 9, setting the record for the earliest appearance of the Atlantic’s sixth storm of the season. Fred’s formation date of August 11 (in UTC time) lags the 2020 pace by more than a month, but comes almost a month before the average September 8 arrival of the Atlantic’s sixth named storm.

According to a Tweet from Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University, Fred’s arrival on August 11 ranks as the sixth earliest appearance of the Atlantic’s sixth named storm in the satellite era (since 1966). The top five earliest sixth storm formations since 1966: 2020, 2005, 2012, 2017, and 1995.

Figure 2. Visible satellite image of Tropical Storm Fred approaching landfall in the Dominican Republic at 1610Z (12:10 p.m. EDT) Wednesday, August 11, 2021. (Image credit: NOAA/RAMMB/Colorado State University)

Forecast for Fred

Fred is on a track that will take it directly over rugged Hispaniola, which has mountains as high as 10,000 feet. Interaction with the island should significantly disrupt Fred, weakening it to a tropical depression by Wednesday night. Fred is expected to emerge back over water on Thursday morning, and it will likely take the storm a day to reorganize to the point where significant strengthening could occur. But a path very close to the north coast of Cuba, as currently predicted by the National Hurricane Center, will hamper reorganization of Fred, as Cuba’s high terrain will block inflow of low-level moisture from the south into the storm.

Sea surface temperatures along Fred’s path over the next five days will be favorable for strengthening, ranging from 29-30 degrees Celsius (84-86°F). However, an upper-level trough of low pressure to the northwest of Fred is expected to bring strong upper-level winds from the west to southwest for at least the next three days, creating 15-20 knots of wind shear. This unfavorable wind shear likely will slow any intensification of Fred. There is also some dry air along the west side of Fred’s circulation that will interfere with development.

Once Fred enters the Florida Straits on Saturday, the ridge of high pressure steering the storm will carry it more to northwest, resulting in a track parallel to the Florida peninsula. The main uncertainty in the track forecast will result from any potential center reformation of Fred as it struggles to reorganize after emerging from the coast of Hispaniola. It is possible that Fred could jump more to the north during a center reformation, resulting in a landfall near Miami, though a track into the Gulf of Mexico just offshore of western Florida is more likely. Virtually the entire state of Florida was in the 11 a.m. EDT NHC Wednesday cone of uncertainty.

If Fred does enter the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday without hitting South Florida, conditions may be more favorable for development over the Gulf. The atmosphere will be more moist, and the upper-level trough of low pressure shearing Fred should be weaker. These conditions may allow Fred to intensify into a strong tropical storm or category 1 hurricane before its final landfall in the Florida Peninsula, expected to occur by Monday. Regardless of Fred’s final landfall intensity, heavy rains and flooding are likely to be the main threat from the storm in Florida. If Fred tracks up the west coast of Florida over water, a storm surge of 1-3 feet is likely along much of the Florida Gulf Coast, with higher storm surge levels possible in Tampa Bay.

Figure 3. Visible satellite image of 95L in the eastern tropical Atlantic on Wednesday morning, August 11, 2021. (Image credit: NASA Worldview)

Tropical disturbance 95L a long-range concern for Caribbean

A disturbance in the eastern tropical Atlantic dubbed 95L has the potential to follow in Fred’s footsteps toward the Lesser Antilles and beyond. Located on Wednesday morning between about longitude 40°W and 45°W, this tropical wave was moving westward at 10-15 mph. Showers and thunderstorms were scattered around 95L in disorganized fashion. Robust wind shear of around 25 knots was hindering development of 95L, but the shear should gradually decrease to around 10-15 knots by Friday. The atmosphere around 95L is only modestly moist, with a mid-level relative humidity of 50-55%, but the system will be traveling over warm waters of 27-28 degrees Celsius (81-82°F) over the next couple of days.

95L has modest model support for development, but there is much uncertainty (see the Tweet by NOAA hurricane scientist Andy Hazelton above). In its 8 a.m. EDT Wednesday tropical weather outlook, NHC gave 95L 2-day and 5-day odds of development of 20% and 40%, respectively. A broad ridge of high pressure over the western Atlantic should keep 95L moving steadily west to west-northwest until it reaches the vicinity of the Leeward Islands around Saturday night. The next name on the Atlantic list is Grace.

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Jeff Masters

Jeff Masters, Ph.D., worked as a hurricane scientist with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. After a near-fatal flight into category 5 Hurricane Hugo, he left the Hurricane Hunters to pursue a...

Bob Henson

Bob Henson is a meteorologist and journalist based in Boulder, Colorado. He has written on weather and climate for the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Weather Underground, and many freelance...