Tropical Storm Richard has formed off the coast of Central America, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday.
The upgrade came after data from a U.S. Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft investigating Tropical Depression Nineteen on Thursday morning found tropical-storm-force winds.
Tropical Storm Richard is the 17th named storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season.
The storm is moving toward the southeast at 6 mph. However, an area of high pressure that is steering the system over the Caribbean will begin to build and shift westward. This will cause the storm to turn toward the west and then northwest later today. The latest forecast track from the National Hurricane Center shows Richard making landfall on Sunday evening south of Cozumel on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Residents along the U.S. Gulf Coast should carefully monitor the forecast for Richard. Some forecast models show the storm making a turn toward the north and northeast after it re-emerges off the Yucatan Peninsula and into the Gulf of Mexico. If Richard holds together, it could very well threaten the U.S. Gulf Coast next week.
Richard is expected to gradually intensify over the next day or two, becoming a Category 1 hurricane by Saturday morning. Strong upper-level winds and dry air will inhibit storm intensification over the next day or two. However, by Saturday, upper-level winds are expected to weaken creating a favorable environment for intensification.
Even though it is late in the season, some forecast models show the storm developing into a major hurricane in a few days. This is not entirely out of the question. The Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends November 30. Tropical cyclone activity usually peaks in early September.