Forecasters say Beta could become the ninth-named storm to make landfall in the United States this season as it unleashes days of flooding downpours along the Gulf coast.
Beta wrote a new page in the record books for becoming the earliest 23rd-named tropical storm in the Atlantic, replacing Alpha from 2005, which formed on Oct. 22 and was the first-ever storm to be named a Greek letter.
The tropical storm claimed the second letter in the Greek alphabet on Friday afternoon, following the formation of Wilfred and Alpha. Once the last name on the Atlantic hurricane season's designated list is exhausted, Greek letters are used to identify tropical storms.
Forecasters had been monitoring the disturbance for over a week before it developed into Tropical Depression 22 on Thursday. By Friday evening, the system strengthened into Tropical Storm Beta. As of Sunday afternoon, the storm was located southeast of Galveston, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. Movement was at 3 mph toward the west-northwest.
Weak steering winds have resulted in Beta meandering over the Gulf of Mexico over the past few days. A general westward drift toward Texas is expected to begin on Sunday and continue through Monday.
"Beta is feeling the impacts of some stronger southwesterly vertical wind shear found over the northwestern Gulf of Mexico," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Rob Miller said.
This wind shear, along with some dry air, has limited Beta's strengthening thus far, and AccuWeather meteorologists project these factors to continue to be a deterrent for the storm to reach hurricane strength as it moves closer to the coast.
"How strong Beta gets may hold the key on whether or not it makes landfall," according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski. "A stronger tropical storm tends to poke higher up into the atmosphere and might get steered westward toward Texas, while a weaker system may hover in the lowest part of the atmosphere, where it avoids stronger winds aloft and then hovers over the Gulf for days."
AccuWeather meteorologists expect Beta to have the best opportunity to make landfall along the coast of Texas between Corpus Christi and Galveston late Monday or early Tuesday. This would be the ninth system to make landfall in the United States this season. Numerous watches and warnings remain in effect along the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, due to the potential for storm-surge flooding, heavy rainfall and tropical-storm-force winds.
"Tropical Storm Beta is a reminder that hurricane season is still in full swing," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a media release on Friday. "Now is the time to prepare. Stock your emergency kit, refill prescriptions and monitor Houston OEM's channels for official updates."
Residents are urged to not focus on Beta's intensity, as even if the storm fails to achieve hurricane status as currently predicted, days of heavy rainfall and flooding are likely, even well away from the center of the storm.
Heavy rainfall and the risk for flash flooding are likely even if the storm lingers just offshore.
The wind shear over Beta is dragging some of its moisture well to the northeast of its center of circulation. This has caused drenching downpours to extend along much of the central Gulf coast.
"The slow movement of the system has raised alarms among AccuWeather forecasters. In 2017, Harvey unloaded up to 61 inches of rain as it spent days over eastern Texas. Even though this system will not reach the strength of Harvey, it will have the resources to produce torrential rainfall," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.
Back in 2001, Allison, as a tropical storm, unleashed disastrous flooding across southeastern Texas, due to its slow movement.
Widespread rainfall totals of 4-8 inches are expected across southeastern Texas and into southern Louisiana. Higher rainfall totals on the order of 8-16 inches with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 24 inches are expected to occur along the Texas and Louisiana coasts.
"This rainfall can lead to significant flooding, which may last for several days," Miller said.
Should the storm stall near the Texas coast, rainfall amounts could be higher and may even exceed 24 inches. Conversely, should Beta move along at a quicker pace and push inland, total rainfall amounts could be cut in half for some locations, though flooding would still remain a threat.
Waterspouts and isolated tornadoes can occur in Beta's outer bands to the northeast of the center of the storm.
A large area of 40- to 60-mph wind gusts is expected, with higher gusts of 60-80 mph and an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 90 mph expected where Beta initially approaches the coast in Texas.