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Florida Fears Tropical Storm

The south of the state, still recovering from Hurricane Wilma, could be vulnerable to Gamma, forming in the western Caribbean.

November 19, 2005|Ken Kaye | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

MIAMI — This can't be happening again. Can it?

Just as South Florida comes up for air, it could be under attack again in a scenario extremely similar to that of Hurricane Wilma.

Forming in the western Caribbean on Friday, Tropical Storm Gamma was projected to hit southwest Florida by Monday afternoon. It could bring winds as high as 65 mph, heavy rains and a high potential for tornadoes -- almost exactly one month after Hurricane Wilma.

The good news, at this point: Gamma was not expected to grow into a hurricane. In addition, a cold front could weaken it or guide it south of the state, said meteorologist Jamie Rhome with the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The bad news: Even if it arrives as a weak, sloppy system, it could be devastating to the thousands of homes in the region with blue tarps and roof damage after Wilma, said Tony Carper, Broward County's director of emergency management.

"We have a lot of homes that are in a weakened condition," he said. "There's a lot of patchwork roofs all over the place, and it could severely impact those. And that's not to mention mobile homes."

Rhome says residents shouldn't panic.

"While we want people to pay really close attention to this system, we don't want mass hysteria -- given South Florida's sensitivity to tropical systems," he said.

South Florida already has been struck twice this year, first by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 25, then by Wilma on Oct. 24.

Late Friday, Gamma, the 24th named storm of what already was the most active hurricane season on record, was southeast of Belize City, wobbling northwest at 5 mph. It had maximum winds of about 45 mph, barely tropical storm strength.

It was expected to graze Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula by Sunday and get pushed toward Florida by a cold front.

"What you have here is a Midwest cold front versus a tropical system, clashing," Rhome said, adding that the course of the storm would be determined by "whichever one is stronger."

If the forecast track holds, Gamma could dump widespread rains of three to five inches over South Florida, starting as early as Sunday. Some areas could get more than six inches, said meteorologist Dan Gregoria of the National Weather Service in Miami.

Gamma's track had much uncertainty because "the models are all over the place," said Paul Milelli, Palm Beach County director of public safety.

His greatest concern: The storm's rapid forward speed combined with the cold front means that "the potential for tornadoes is very great." Tornadoes can cause severe damage beyond the winds and rain in a tropical system.

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