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Tropical Storm Watch Issued in Southwest Florida and Florida Keys Ahead of Fred

Tropical Depression Fred is expected to regain tropical storm strength by the time it approaches Southwest Florida Friday night, and a Tropical Storm Watch has been issued for the Gulf Coast from Bonita Beach south to the Florida Bay, including the entire Florida Keys.

The primary hazard that will affect most Floridians from Fred is still likely to be heavy rain and potential flooding. However, tropical storm force winds and high seas are also possible as early as Friday night in the aforementioned areas of Southwest Florida under the watch. It is still too soon to determine specifics of any wind or surge impacts for coastal areas farther north along Florida's Gulf Coast. As a result, forecasters and emergency managers urge all Floridians to monitor Fred's progress and stay informed of future updates until the magnitude, location and timing of such impacts become clearer.

As of 5:00 pm EDT Thursday, Tropical Depression Fred was located 470 miles ESE of Key West Florida and moving WNW at 12 mph. Maximum sustained winds were up to 35 mph, and the storm's minimum central pressure was 1012 mb.

Fred is forecast to intensify back into a tropical storm during the day Friday as it moves farther away from Cuba and into the Straits of Florida. The National Hurricane Center forecast track takes Fred through the Florida Keys and into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico Saturday, with a turn to the north expected Sunday. There was a slight nudge to the west with the forecast track after Sunday, placing more of the Florida Panhandle in line for potential impacts from a landfalling tropical storm Monday.

Fred weakened to a Tropical Depression Wednesday evening as it moved across the mountainous island of Hispaniola. Stronger upper-level winds were also noted to be limiting its ability to organize sufficiently back into a tropical storm late Thursday. And while confidence is increasing in the overall track forecast from Fred through the next 24 hours, variances still exist in the potential track and resulting intensity it may be as it begins to affect Florida.

The far left (or west) side of the forecast cone takes Fred on a more westerly route through the Florida Keys and several hundred miles into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Several reliable forecast model simulations have begun to shift in this direction, which would allow Fred to spend more time over water and potentially in a slightly more favorable atmospheric environment for intensification. On this journey, Fred would most likely make a turn to the north late Sunday or Monday and have a greater chance of directly affecting portions of the Florida Panhandle with tropical storm conditions.

The eastern side of Fred's margin of error - which based on current model interpretations has about an equal chance of still coming to pass - is that the storm's center moves more north than west and spends more time near or over the Florida Peninsula. On this path, upper-level winds and the interactions with land would likely prevent Fred from intensifying as much, thereby mitigating overall surge and wind impacts along the Florida's Gulf Coast. However, if this outcome manifests, heavy rainfall would be more widespread and potentially affect areas along the west coast of the peninsula that are more vulnerable to flooding due to recent heavy rainfall events.

Regardless of which path Fred takes into the Gulf of Mexico, and even irrespective of the storm's intensity at the time, tropical storm force wind gusts, heavy rain, and localized flooding are all probable in the Florida Keys as early as Friday night. These hazards are also possible in portions of south and southwest Florida from Naples to Miami Saturday. Early forecast data suggests 4 to 7 inches of rain would be possible in these areas, especially near the coastlines, through Sunday.

Meteorologists at the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network will continue to provide updates on Tropical Depression Fred to your local NPR affiliate, in the mobile app Florida Storms, and on the @FloridaStorms social media accounts through the duration of the event.

Copyright 2021 Storm Center. To see more, visit .

Jeff Huffman is Chief Meteorologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In addition to his full-time position at the university's radio and television stations, WUFT-FM/TV and WRUF-TV, the latter of which he co-founded, Huffman also provides weather coverage to public radio stations throughout Florida