The third named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season gathered strength in Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, bringing heavy rains and life-threatening flash flooding to parts of southern Mexico and Central America.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that tropical depression three has strengthened into Tropical Storm Cristobal. The storm is centered Tuesday afternoon about 155 miles west-southwest of Campeche, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph. It was moving west at only 3 mph.
"Some strengthening is possible during the next day or so." the NHC said.
Cristobal may have just developed, but the storm has already broken records.
Colorado State University hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach said Tuesday on Twitter that this was the earliest date for a third named storm in the Atlantic basin on records dating back to 1851. The previous record was Colin on June 6, 2016.
The NHC said that Cristobal is forecast to move slowly west-southwestward and then meander over the south Bay of Campeche through Thursday.
A tropical storm warning is in effect from Campeche to Puerto de Veracruz.
Over the next four to five days, the slow-moving storm system will bring between 10 to 20 inches of rain to southern Mexico. That will cause life-threatening flooding and mudslides in southern Mexico and Central America.
Additional rainfall of 10 to 15 inches, with isolated amounts of 25 inches, is expected along the Pacific coasts of Chiapas, Guatemala and El Salvador.
"Some of these Pacific locations received 20 inches of rain over the weekend, and storm total amounts of 35 inches are possible," the NHC said. "Rainfall in all of these areas may produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides."
By late this week, the system will likely turn north into the Western Gulf, potentially threatening the U.S. Gulf Coast between Texas and Louisiana between Saturday and Monday.
Forecasters are not yet sure how strong the system will be when it is closer to the U.S, but this point the central and western Gulf Coast should monitor the forecast and prepare for the possibility of a tropical storm or even Category 1 hurricane impacts in the Sunday-Monday timeframe.
"Interests in these areas should monitor the progress of this system through the week and ensure they have their hurricane plan in place as we begin the season," the NHC said.
The storm system is made up of the remnants of another tropical system in the Pacific that brought heavy rain across El Salvador and Guatemala.
Rains from Tropical Storm Amanda left at least 17 dead and seven missing while causing extensive damage in the two countries.
El Salvador Interior Minister Mario Durán said Monday some 7,000 people were scattered across 154 shelters. He said a quarter of the rain that the country normally receives in a year fell in 70 hours.
That set off landslides and flooding, especially in the western part of the country. A day earlier officials said at least 900 homes were damaged.
In Guatemala, a 9-year-old boy was swept away by a river and drowned and another person was killed when a home collapsed, said David de León, spokesman for the national disaster agency.
Amanda pounded El Salvador with rain for days before moving ashore as a tropical storm on Sunday and pushing across Guatemala.
There are as many as 13 to 19 named storms predicted during the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, forecasters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said last month.
Six to 10 of those could develop into hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or more, and three to six could even become major hurricanes, capable of inflicting devastating damage.
The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, and will include the names: Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, and Wilfred.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.