VALDOSTA — Forecasters are keeping an eye on a storm system in the Gulf of Mexico which could become a tropical storm heading for the Florida Panhandle.
At 2 p.m. Thursday, the storm was located about 155 miles east of Tampico, Mexico, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was moving in a northerly direction with 35-mile-per-hour winds. A tropical storm has winds of at least 39 mph.
The Thursday track for the storm had a "best guess" taking the center of the storm across the Florida Panhandle, with Lowndes County at the edge of the track.
"It's a complicated scenario," said Eric Bunker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Tallahassee, Fla., office. "High-level shearing action over the Gulf right now may slow it's strengthening."
The storm, "now little more than a collection of thunderstorms," may merge with an upper level disturbance over Texas, he said. "We're still watching the models."
The hurricane center expected the unnamed storm to become a tropical storm late Thursday. A tropical storm warning is in place from the Florida/Alabama border east to the Ochlocknee River, with a tropical storm watch from the river east to Yankeetown.
Bunker said winds of 45-50 mph are expected in the Panhandle. About three to five inches of rain are expected in north Florida, with two to three inches possible in South Georgia.
"It should be a fast-moving system," he said, clearing the region by Sunday.
The storm appears far less powerful than Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 hurricane which devastated the Florida cities of Panama City, Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe, as well as destroying Tyndall Air Force Base a year ago.
Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.