HOUSTON – An area of disturbed weather in the Bahamas has become better organized and was upgraded Thursday to tropical depression status with winds of 35 mph.
The system is expected to accelerate as it heads into the Gulf of Mexico and could become Tropical Storm Bonnie before making landfall. According to the forecast cone from the National Hurricane Center, all persons from Matagorda Bay to New Orleans should prepare for tropical storm – and possibly hurricane—conditions approaching as early as Sunday evening through Monday.
For now, the Hurricane Center is forecasting the storm to stay below hurricane force. However, intensity forecasts are difficult, and the storm should be monitored closely for changes in intensity. It is not out of the question this storm could become a hurricane before making landfall.
As of Thursday afternoon, the system had already caused flooding in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
In the Dominican Republic, where roughly 1,500 people were evacuated, rice fields were destroyed and several communities left isolated after bridges collapsed. A 14-year-old boy died in Puerto Rico on Sunday after drowning in a swollen river.
Haiti’s Department of Civil Protection reported minor flooding in the northern Artibonite region but no injuries or major damage.
Residents in the southeastern Bahamas endured heavy rains and lightning, but no damages or injuries have been reported.
Officials with the Emergency Operations Center said they would travel to the area with basic supplies as soon as the weather improves.
A tropical storm warning was issued for the central and northwestern Bahamas, for Florida’s east coast south of Golden Beach and also along Florida’s west coast northward to Bonita Beach.
The system is expected bring heavy winds and rains to the Florida Keys in the next few days, but emergency officials said they were not planning any mandatory evacuations since they are not expecting any major storm surge.
As a precaution, storm shelters will open for tourists and residents who live on boats or have special needs.