Satellite data was impressive overnight, showing what appeared to be a healthy and strengthening tropical storm. But it wasn’t until this morning when NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft were able to confirm a well-defined low level circulation had formed on then-called Invest 97-L. As of 8am this morning, Tropical Storm Karen was classified by the National Hurricane Center and much of Florida’s panhandle was put on alert for possible landfall this weekend. Initial wind speeds with this first advisory were calculated to be 60 mph and the season’s eleventh named storm was moving north-northwest at 12 mph.
The upper-level environment and water temperatures around Karen are conducive for further strengthening over the next 24 to 36 hours. However, wind shear from an approaching trough of low pressure may halt the strengthening or even cause some weakening prior to landfall. Confidence is high in the general forecast idea that Karen will move north, or just slightly east of north, toward the Florida panhandle by Saturday. The exact strength of Karen and its forward progress at the time of landfall will play a big role in the degree of impact to Florida’s Gulf Coast. A slower, weaker system could result in much higher rainfall totals but less of a wind and wave threat. However, a stronger and faster-moving storm would produce lower rainfall accumulations, but potentially cause minor wind and storm surge damage. Residents along the Gulf Coast from Pensacola to the Big Bend should stay tuned for future updates on the progress and forecast for Tropical Storm Karen.