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Tropical Storm Beta turns toward Texas

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Sept. 20 (UPI) — Forecasters said Tropical Storm Beta could become the ninth-named storm to make landfall in the United States this season as it unleashes days of flooding downpours along the Gulf coast.

Beta wrote a new page in the record books for becoming the earliest 23rd-named tropical storm in the Atlantic, replacing Alpha from 2005, which formed on Oct. 22 and was the first-ever storm to be named a Greek letter.

The tropical storm claimed the second letter in the Greek alphabet on Friday afternoon, following Wilfred and Alpha. Once the last name on the Atlantic hurricane season’s designated list is exhausted, Greek letters are used to identify tropical storms.

Forecasters had been monitoring the disturbance for over a week before it developed into Tropical Depression 22 on Thursday. By Friday evening, the system strengthened into Tropical Storm Beta. As of 10 p.m. CDT on Sunday, the storm was located 120 miles south of Galveston, Texas, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. Movement was at 6 mph toward the west-northwest.

Weak steering winds have resulted in Beta meandering over the Gulf of Mexico over the past few days. Beta will continue to drift west-northwestward toward Texas into Monday night.

“Beta has been feeling the impacts of some stronger vertical wind shear found over the northwestern Gulf of Mexico,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Rob Miller said.

This wind shear, along with some dry air, has limited Beta’s strengthening thus far, and AccuWeather meteorologists project these factors to continue to be a deterrent for the storm to reach hurricane strength as it moves closer to the coast.

“How strong Beta gets may hold the key on whether or not it makes landfall,” according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski. “A stronger tropical storm tends to poke higher up into the atmosphere and might get steered westward toward Texas, while a weaker system may hover in the lowest part of the atmosphere, where it avoids stronger winds aloft and then hovers over the Gulf for days.”

AccuWeather meteorologists expect Beta to have the best opportunity to make landfall along the coast of Texas between Corpus Christi and Galveston late Monday or early Tuesday, perhaps near Matagorda Bay. This would be the ninth system to make landfall in the United States this season. Numerous watches and warnings remain in effect along the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, due to the potential for storm-surge flooding, heavy rainfall and tropical-storm-force winds.

“Tropical Storm Beta is a reminder that hurricane season is still in full swing,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a media release on Friday. “Now is the time to prepare. Stock your emergency kit, refill prescriptions and monitor Houston OEM’s channels for official updates.”

Residents are urged to not focus on Beta’s intensity, as days of heavy rainfall and flooding are likely, even well away from the center of the storm.

Heavy rainfall and the risk for flash flooding are likely even if the storm lingers just offshore.

The wind shear over Beta is dragging some of its moisture well to the northeast of its center of circulation. This has caused drenching downpours to extend along much of the central Gulf Coast.

“The slow movement of the system has raised alarms among AccuWeather forecasters. In 2017, Harvey unloaded up to 61 inches of rain as it spent days over eastern Texas. Even though this system will not reach the strength of Harvey, it will have the resources to produce torrential rainfall,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

Back in 2001, Allison, as a tropical storm, unleashed disastrous flooding across southeastern Texas, due to its slow movement.

Widespread rainfall totals of 4-8 inches are expected across southeastern Texas and into southern Louisiana. Higher rainfall totals on the order of 8-16 inches with an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 24 inches are expected to occur along the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

“This rainfall can lead to significant, life-threatening flooding, which may last for several days,” Miller said.

Should the storm stall near the Texas coast, rainfall amounts could be higher and may even exceed 24 inches. Conversely, should Beta move along at a quicker pace and push inland, total rainfall amounts could be cut in half for some locations, though flooding would still remain a threat.

Waterspouts and isolated tornadoes can occur in Beta’s outer bands to the northeast of the center of the storm.

A large area of 40- to 60-mph wind gusts is expected, with higher gusts of 60-80 mph and an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 90 mph expected where Beta initially approaches the coast in Texas.

The storm is likely to create some storm surge along the western and central Gulf coast, as well as rough seas, pounding surf and dangerous rip currents over the Gulf of Mexico.

On Sunday night, the pounding surf could be seen taking its toll on the 61st Street Fishing Pier in Galveston, which suffered some structural damage.

“Parts of southwestern Louisiana that were devastated by Hurricane Laura will also experience some disruptive wind and rounds of rain that could hinder ongoing recovery efforts,” Sosnowski said.

Primarily due to the flood threat, Beta will be a 2 for the United States on the AccuWeather RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes. The RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes is a 6-point scale with ratings of less than 1 and 1 to 5 that was introduced by AccuWeather in 2019 to rate tropical systems based on multiple impacts, rather than just wind, like the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale does.

“As high pressure to the north weakens and another upper-level disturbance approaches from the northwest, Beta should take a more northerly [to northeasterly] course during the middle and latter part of the week,” Miller said.

Depending on the exact track of Beta, drenching downpours could reach the Southeast later in the week, including areas recently impacted by Hurricane Sally.

With months still left in the Atlantic hurricane season, more Greek letters are likely to be used. This past week, AccuWeather meteorologists upped their 2020 season predictions for the number of total storms to 28, which would tie the record number of named storms in the basin set in the notorious 2005 season.

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