An area of heavy thunderstorm activity in the eastern Gulf of Mexico became Tropical Depression 4 overnight, and it was declared Tropical Storm Claudette at 11:15 CDT based on radar observations. Aircraft reconnaissance subsequently indicated maximum winds have reached 50 mph with higher gusts, and some strengthening is possible before landfall on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida tonight. A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect from the Alabama/Florida border eastward to the Suwanee River in Florida. The storm is centered about 40 miles south of Apalachicola, Florida and is moving northwest at 14 mph.
Meanwhile, Ana has been found to be weakening. Aircraft measurements indicate that the storm is poorly organized, is barely a tropical storm, and could dissipate later today. Maximum winds are 40 mph. As a precaution, a Tropical Storm Watch remains in effect for Puerto Rico, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and a number of other islands in the northeastern Caribbean.
Tropical Storm Bill, on the other hand, has strengthened this morning to maximum winds of 60 mph as it moves west-northwest at 16 mph from a position over 1500 miles east of the Lesser Antilles. Favorable environmental conditions in the form of light wind shear and warm water temperatures are expected to contribute to more strengthening, and Bill is forecast to become a hurricane within 24 hours, and a major hurricane in the next several days.
Images (click to enlarge): Forecast tracks for Tropical Storms Claudette (upper) and Bill (lower) from National Hurricane Center
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