Widespread rain and a few strong thunderstorms are likely on Friday over much of the Big Bend, North, and Central Florida. The strongest storms may produce isolated damaging wind gusts and a low chance for a brief tornado.
The unsettled weather is expected to develop ahead of a gradually intensifying area of low pressure that will move quickly from the northeastern Gulf of Mexico to the Mid-Atlantic states. The Storm Prediction Center has placed portions of the Florida Panhandle and sections of North-Central Florida under a marginal risk for severe thunderstorms on Friday.
Scattered showers are expected to develop across the peninsula Thursday, then increase in coverage and intensity late Thursday night and Friday morning as they expand north to the I-10 corridor. The rain is also forecast to become heavier shortly after sunrise in the Jacksonville and Gainesville areas. Enough unstable air from the Gulf of Mexico may produce a few thunderstorms with gusty winds, as well.
With daytime heating Friday, the storms could intensify near the Tampa/St. Pete metro areas around midday. Winds from the southeast near ground level and from a different direction — from the south a few thousand feet of the above the ground — may create enough rotation for a brief tornado or two.
High resolution model simulations forecast the rain and thunderstorms to move across central Florida during the mid and late afternoon hours. If the air mass becomes unstable enough, a few pockets of damaging wind are possible near Interstate 4 before the heaviest rain departs shortly after sunset.
Drought conditions have been improving in recent weeks over the north Florida, but a moderate drought remains over much of the Big Bend and Panhandle areas. 1 to 1.5 inches of rain are forecast in these areas. Abnormally dry conditions have developed over south Florida, where less rain is forecast from this system.