Florida may see tropical storm conditions by Saturday as a ‘poorly organized’ Fred swirls past Cuba – USA TODAY

  • Fred was downgraded to a tropical depression Wednesday night but is expected to strengthen again before making landfall in Florida this weekend.
  • The exact path of Fred remains unknown, making predictions about its intensity in Florida tricky, forecasters said.
  • Winds and rain could come to Florida as soon as Friday, with tropical storm conditions expected by Saturday and multiple landfalls possible in the Sunshine State.

Downgraded to a tropical depression, Fred was swirling between eastern Cuba and the southeastern Bahamas early Thursday as it made its way toward Florida for a possible weekend landfall.

After a quiet month in the Atlantic hurricane season, Fred is the first named storm in August. The system drenched the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, knocking out power for hundreds of thousands and threatening mudslides.

The storm weakened as it moved through the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as expected, but it was forecast to regain strength as it moved over water and slows over the next couple of days, forecasters said.

Winds and rain could come to Florida as soon as Friday. Tropical storm conditions were expected by Saturday, and multiple landfalls were possible in the state, according to the National Weather Service.

“These conditions are expected to spread northward along portions of the Florida west coast and the Florida Panhandle through Monday, with another landfall in the Panhandle on Monday,” said Dennis Feltgen, a National Hurricane Center meteorologist. 

The storm was not expected to reach hurricane strength. 

What we know about Fred:Now a tropical depression, Fred forecast to strengthen again before Florida landfall

A tropical storm watch was expected for portions of the Florida Keys and the southern Florida Peninsula Thursday afternoon, the hurricane center said.

Calling the storm “poorly organized,” the center said Fred was about 80 miles west of Great Inagua Island in the Bahamas and 230 miles east of Camaguey, Cuba, as of 11 a.m. Thursday. It was moving west-northwest at 14 mph with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.

On Tuesday, Fred reached tropical storm status before it brought heavy rains and power outages to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

About 13,000 customers were without power in Puerto Rico. Gov. Pedro Pierluisi had closed government agencies on Tuesday, and some gas stations shut down after running out of fuel.

Power outages were more widespread in the Dominican Republic: About 300,000 customers were in the dark after Fred passed through. Flooding caused part of an aqueduct system to shut down, government officials said, and people in low-lying areas of Santo Domingo were urged to evacuate. Mudslides were still a risk, forecasters warned.

Heavy rains were expected in the eastern Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and Cuba, and some areas of those islands could get up to 5 inches. Parts of the western Bahamas could see up to 8 inches.

Flooding is also a risk in Florida, which could see 3 to 5 inches of rainfall through Monday in the Keys and South Florida, the Hurricane Center said. 

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The exact path of Fred remains unknown, which makes predictions about its intensity in Florida tricky, forecasters said. The Hurricane Center’s official path places Fred over the eastern Gulf of Mexico after passing through the Florida Keys.

That would mean additional strengthening, and Fred could make a final landfall in the Big Bend region or Panhandle late in the weekend or early next week. But earlier landfalls would weaken the storm, forecasters said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis urged Floridians on Wednesday to watch for updates on Fred’s track but said it remained too early to determine the threat to the state.

Fred is the sixth named storm of the 2021 hurricane season and first in August, breaking a monthlong lull after Hurricane Elsa formed July 9.

Elsewhere in the tropics, another system has a 60% chance of development over the next five days as it spins between Africa and the Caribbean. 

The tropical wave was about 1,400 miles east of the Lesser Antilles early Thursday, but ocean conditions could help the system develop in the coming days. 

If the system becomes a named storm, it would be Grace.

Contributing: Megan Kearney, Naples Daily News; Kimberly Miller, The Palm Beach Post; The Associated Press

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