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'Ragged' Tropical Storm Laura Maintains Westerly Track Toward Gulf Of Mexico, Away From Florida

It’s appearing more likely that Florida will largely be spared the worst as a disorganized Tropical Storm Laura continues to track west and into the Gulf of Mexico early next week.

The forecast track from the National Hurricane Center Saturday morning takes the storm further south and west into the Gulf, possibly clipping the western Florida Keys and making a potential landfall Wednesday or Thursday anywhere from the western Florida Panhandle to near Texas.

Early next week, forecasters say Laura could interact with Tropical Storm Marco, which is poised to cross Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and is on a northwesterly path toward the Gulf.

As of 8 a.m., Laura was located about 50 miles southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and moving west at 21 mph. Maximum sustained winds are 40 mph with higher gusts, according to the hurricane center.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for Puerto Rico and other Caribbean nations – including the U.S. Virgin Islands and portions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti – as the center of Laura is forecast to move near or over Puerto Rico on Saturday morning.

However, forecasters say wind shear is helping to keep the storm “quite ragged,” and a subtropical ridge over the central and western Atlantic continues to steer Laura to the west.

Forecasters say this general direction could take the storm over land areas of Puerto Rico and near mountainous Hispaniola on Saturday, and eastern Cuba on Sunday into Monday. This interaction could impact the storm in the short-term, though it is expected to strengthen as the wind shear decreases and it moves over the warm Gulf waters, turning to the northwest and reaching hurricane strength by midweek.

Laura is forecast to enter the Gulf of Mexico early Tuesday, about the same time Marco is expected to approach the Gulf Coast with a potential landfall as a tropical storm late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Laura could produce about 3-6 inches of rain over Puerto Rico and Cuba, isolated totals of 8 inches possible.

Locally, forecasters with the National Weather Service say that on its current track, Laura’s greatest impact will be bands of heavy rain, localized flooding, gusty winds and strong rip currents through Friday. Portions of southwest Florida could also experience dangerous storm surge.

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