On July 7th this year we had a minor disturbance in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico which never amounted to anything. This collection of storms did have models steering it over the Florida panhandle, though. Hurricanes and tropical storms are a regular occurrence for the Florida peninsula, but very rare for Tallahassee. Invest 96L, the designation given for this extremely early stage of a possible storm, was given only one chance in five by the National Hurricane Center of reaching tropical storm strength. In the event it did become an organized storm system, the tracks were favoring a direct hit for Tallahassee. Invest 96L ended up remaining a cluster of storms and tracking more north than northeast, and Leon County has only seen some extra clouds and rain.
Few tropical systems make it to Tallahassee intact. The strongest storm to make a direct hit on the city was Hurricane Kate in 1985. By the time it reached Tallahassee the storm had weakened and begun changing from a tropical system to a cold-core extra-tropical system. A number of named storms coming towards the coast tend to keep their tropical storm titles after becoming cold-core purely for public safety reasons. Hurricanes and tropical storms are familiar terms for strong storms and people notice them. A strong storm which no longer is tropical is technically no longer a hurricane or tropical storm even if it has maintained its low pressure and strong winds.
An example of a no-longer-tropical tropical storm would be Tropical Storm Claudette in 2009. It was a brief storm. In 24 hours Claudette had gone from a weak disturbance with potential (like invest 96L) to 60mph winds. This final intensification occurred only once the storm became extra-tropical, however the National Weather Service wasn’t about to declare Claudette a former tropical storm as it was still dangerous. In Tallahassee the effects were limited to tree damage and minor flooding, similar to a strong thunderstorm, only covering a much larger area.
Even if the storm does not carry a name or a topical title, it can be just as strong and just as big. It’s important to remain aware of the weather in the Gulf of Mexico this time of year as most of the afternoon storms Tallahassee residents enjoy in the summer are due to sea-breeze from the coast. In addition to that, once in a while an Invest 96L will become a Claudette with little warning. Summer and fall are busy seasons for the Gulf of Mexico, so stay tuned.