This story is no longer being updated. Click here for the latest forecast track.
TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Tropical Depression Nine strengthened Thursday and became Tropical Storm Ida just before 5:30 p.m. ET, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Tropical Depression Nine formed late Thursday morning. Air Force Hurricane Hunters investigated the system around 5 p.m. and found the depression had strengthened to Tropical Storm Ida with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph.
According to the NHC, Ida will strengthen steadily in the coming days and is forecast to become a hurricane near Cuba or over the southeastern gulf. The NHC says additional strengthening is likely when the system moves over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the storm could be near major hurricane strength when it reaches the northern Gulf Coast.
“Unfortunately, conditions along its path in the northwestern Caribbean and Gulf Of Mexico will be favorable for intensification – low wind shear and very warm water – from Friday all the way up until landfall later on Sunday,” Max Defender 8 Meteorologist Ian Oliver said.
The current forecast track shows Tropical Storm Ida pass near or over the Cayman Islands Thursday night, then the Isle of Youth and Western Cuba on Friday. It’s then expected to move over the southeastern and central Gulf of Mexico Friday night and Saturday before approaching the northern Gulf Coast of the U.S. on Sunday.
“The track has shifted slightly eastward and is now expected to make landfall in Louisiana with 110 mph sustained winds,” Max Defender 8 Meteorologist Rebecca Barry said. “Some forecast models indicate it could be a stronger storm than a Category 2 by landfall.”
The storm is expected to bring heavy rain, flooding and mudslides across Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, western Cuba and parts of the Yucatan Peninsula, according to the NHC. A tropical storm warning has already been issued for the Cayman Islands and the Cuban provinces of Matanzas, Mayabeque, Havana, Artemisa, Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth.
Meanwhile, the NHC is urging people living along the northern Gulf Coast to have their hurricane plan in place.
“There is a risk of life-threatening storm surge, damaging hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall Sunday and Monday along the northern Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to the upper Texas coast, with the greatest risk along the coast of Louisiana,” NHC forecasters said.
Forecasters did note that the forecast uncertainty is larger than usual because the system is just forming.
Other areas to watch
There are two other areas the NHC is monitoring in the Atlantic, both with high chances of development in the coming days.
The first is an area of low pressure several hundred miles east of Bermuda that’s producing disorganized thunderstorms and showers. According to the NHC, environmental conditions are favorable for development and a tropical depression will likely form over the weekend. The system is expected to move toward the east slowly in the coming days before starting a faster northeastward motion Sunday.
The second area being monitored is a tropical wave between the Cabo Verde Islands and the Lesser Antilles that’s producing a large area of disorganized showers and thunderstorms. That system is also expected to become a tropical depression over the weekend thanks to conducive environmental conditions. The system is forecast to move to the west-northwest or northwest before turning to the north early next week.