OKALOOSA ISLAND — Beachgoers enjoyed a beautiful, sunny Wednesday morning as a storm, now a potential tropical cyclone, made its way west over the Gulf of Mexico. The water, which was calm at the time, will become increasingly dangerous into the weekend, according to meteorologists and local safety officials.
Jonathan Howell with the National Weather Service office in Mobile, Alabama, said the developing tropical cyclone was fairly disorganized Wednesday at the moment and continued to move west. The storm, which located south of the western Florida Panhandle as of Wednesday afternoon, is expected to intensify into a hurricane, Howell said.
Although the Panhandle isn't in the storm's direct path, some inclement weather can be expected as it moves west. Howell said the region can expect some rain from the outer bands of the storm continuing into Sunday morning.
"The primary concern would be potential for heavy rainfall," said Howell, who added that 3 to 6 inches are possible.
Along with the rain, Howell said some brief, weak tornadoes are possible.
Northwest Florida is listed at a less than 10 percent chance of tropical storm force winds of 30 or 35 mph, according to a social media post from Okaloosa County Emergency Management.
But high surf and life-threatening rip currents are expected as early as today, Howell said. A high rip current risk is in effect through Saturday night for Northwest Florida beaches.
"I think we should be able to allow people in the water today but tomorrow through Tuesday of next week, expect double red or red flag conditions," Joe D'Agostino, Destin's beach safety chief, said Wednesday morning. "Regardless of whether the storm gets named, there's going to be waves and there's going to be rip currents for about a week."
Swimmers are advised to stay out of the water when red flags are flying. Double red flags mean the water is closed to the public. If caught in a rip current, people should swim parallel to the beach to escape it.