The Atlantic hurricane season of 2017 has been one of the most intense for years, with 13 named storms and five major hurricanes so far.
But it’s not over yet. Forecasters are predicting that a tropical depression currently hovering over Central America could evolve into a hurricane by the weekend—which would be named Nate—and possibly hit the U.S. Gulf Coast by the weekend.
Tropical Depression 16, as it is currently known, is located around 50 miles south of the northeast coast of Nicaragua, in the Caribbean Sea, according to an advisory issued by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) at 5:00 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday. The storm is currently moving northwest and has wind speeds of around 35 mph.
At present, there are no weather warnings in place for the United States: Nicaragua and Honduras are expecting tropical storm conditions, while parts of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula are also under hurricane watch.
But that could change in the coming days if the depression strengthens to a tropical storm on Thursday and grows in intensity as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico. That means that it could be a hurricane by the time it reaches the Gulf Coast at the weekend, bringing “direct impacts from wind, storm surge, and heavy rainfall,” according to NHC forecaster Daniel Brown.
While it is too early to specify the location and possible magnitude of the storm’s impact on the U.S., Brown said that “residents along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana through the Florida Panhandle should monitor the progress of this system and heed any advice given by local officials.”
The United States, along with Mexico and the Caribbean, has already been rocked by hurricanes in 2017. In August, Hurricane Harvey became the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in 12 years. The storm battered Texas and Louisiana, causing over 70 deaths and potentially costing hundreds of billions of dollars.
Weeks later, the continental United States was spared the worst of the impact of Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm that devastated much of the Caribbean and left some islands virtually destroyed. But it still led to more than 80 deaths in Florida, where more than six million people were ordered to evacuate the state.
In September, Hurricane Maria brought major devastation to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. At least 34 people were killed in Puerto Rico, which is still mostly without water, electricity and cellphone service more than two weeks after the hurricane hit on September 20.
President Donald Trump visited Puerto Rico on Tuesday and joked that the island territory had “thrown our budget a little out of whack” because the federal government had “spent a lot of money” on dealing with the storm’s impact.
The names of storms for each hurricane season are already predetermined by the NHC. If or when it reaches tropical storm status, the current system will take on the name Nate.
Some experts are predicting that the storm could disrupt some industries, including offshore energy, and cotton and orange farming in the southeast United States. Royal Dutch Shell is keeping staff in the region to a minimum, while BP is evacuating nonessential staff from platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, Bloomberg reported.
Florida Governor Rick Scott was briefed about the system’s potential impact on Florida on Wednesday and urged residents weary from the impact of previous storms to remain vigilant.
“Let’s remember, we are still in the heart of hurricane season and while it’s hard to imagine experiencing another storm right now, everyone has to be prepared,” said Scott.