Fred weakens to tropical depression but may strengthen near Cuba

Tropical Storm Fred was bringing heavy showers and high winds to the Dominican Republic before it headed west to Cuba and Florida.
Tropical Storm Fred was bringing heavy showers and high winds to the Dominican Republic before it headed west to Cuba and Florida.PHOTO: REUTERS

MIAMI, FLORIDA (BLOOMBERG) - Tropical Storm Fred weakened to a tropical depression as it dumped heavy rain across the Dominican Republic, but was expected to pick up strength again as it moves west to threaten Cuba and Florida.

The sixth named Atlantic storm of the year was 20 miles (32km) south of Cap-Haitien in Haiti at 11pm Eastern time Wednesday (11am Singapore time Thursday), with sustained winds of 35 miles per hour (56kph), the National Hurricane Centre said.

Fred, which formed Tuesday night, was expected to dump up to eight inches (20cm) of rain on the Dominican Republic Wednesday, potentially causing flash floods. Storm watches and warnings extend to the southern Bahamas and Cuba.

After weakening to a tropical depression, Fred was expected to pass through northern Haiti overnight and start to gain strength again Thursday evening as it approaches Cuba, according to the Hurricane Centre.

On its current path, Fred’s winds may reach southern Florida by Friday evening before it enters the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

It will graze the state’s entire west coast before making landfall on the panhandle late Sunday or early Monday, according to Jim Rouiller, lead meteorologist at the Energy Weather Group.

That track will mirror Elsa, which made landfall on the state’s northern Gulf Coast in early July after it was downgraded to a tropical storm from hurricane.

Fred is unlikely to reach hurricane strength, Rouiller said.

While the warm waters off Florida could give it a boost, that may be countered by low pressure in the Gulf that will increase wind shear. Fred will pose little threat to the oil-production areas of the Gulf.

Forecasters are expecting an active hurricane season, with as many as 21 storms. While Elsa, the most recent Atlantic storm, was more than a month ago, the period from August to October is typically busier than earlier months.

“We’re getting into the active part of the season,” Rouiller said. “It’s been so quiet. That will be changing.”