There are two tropical systems in the Atlantic, and one of them is poised to enter the Gulf today, where it is expected to develop. Another storm to the east will likely beat it to becoming Tropical Storm Bret today. (National Hurricane Center)

Today is the day that forecasters should get a better handle on what a tropical system nearing the Gulf is going to do.

Two things will help: The system is expected to cross over land and make it into the Gulf of Mexico, and the Hurricane Hunters are planning to fly in for a closer look.

But this storm may not get a chance to become Tropical Storm Bret. Another system to the east may beat it and become a named storm later today.

As of Monday morning the potential Gulf system, Invest 93L, was still a bit of a mess. The National Hurricane Center said it had a broad area of low pressure that stretched from the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula into the southeastern Gulf.

It was already producing winds up to gale force (32-38 mph) several hundred miles to the east and northeast of its center.

But that’s only one qualification for a tropical depression or storm. It also needs a closed, defined center of circulation, and Invest 93L doesn’t have that as of Monday morning, according to the hurricane center.

That could change once it gets into the Gulf, and the hurricane center said a tropical or subtropical system is still likely to form.

It would need to have sustained winds of 39 mph to get a name, and that name would be either Bret or Cindy, the next two names on the list.

The Air Force Reserve’s Hurricane Hunters are scheduled to fly in and search for a center later today.

The probability of development into a depression or storm was holding at 90 percent as of Monday morning.

The hurricane center said the system will continue to bring the potential for heavy rain to parts of Central America, the Yucatan Peninsula, western Cuba and the Cayman Islands.

Where will it eventually go?

Computer forecast models take the system northward, but from there it’s highly uncertain. Some models take the storm to the north-central Gulf Coast, others take it to the west near Texas and Louisiana.

It’s too early to say with any certainty where the center will come ashore. But that may not matter all that much.

This storm, named or not, has a broad reach, and effects from it may be felt far from where it makes landfall.

The National Weather Service in Mobile said rain chances along Alabama’s Gulf Coast will begin to increase starting tonight as tropical moisture streams northward.

Rain totals could reach up to 4 inches across south Alabama this week, raising flooding concerns especially near the coast. The weather service said isolated areas could get double that amount depending on how the storm evolves.

It will also begin to get breezy starting Tuesday, and the approaching storm will also raise the risk of rip currents along the beaches, the weather service said.

That’s not all that’s going on in the tropics on Monday.

Far to the east is what the hurricane center is calling Potential Tropical Cyclone Two.

Here’s the forecast track for Potential Tropical Cyclone Two, which could become Tropical Storm Bret later today. (NHC)

The hurricane center is instituting this year a new protocol for storms that haven’t gotten a name but will still pose a threat to land areas.

Potential Tropical Cyclone Two is the first one of these.

As of the last advisory, at 7 a.m. CDT, the system was located about 400 miles east-southeast of Trinidad in the eastern Caribbean and was moving quickly west at 23 mph.

Potential Tropical Cyclone Two has winds of 40 mph — which is tropical storm force. But it too lacks a defined center of circulation, which is why it’s not being called Tropical Storm Bret just yet.

The Hurricane Hunters are scheduled to take a closer look this afternoon, which should help to clarify that.

Some strengthening is expected, the hurricane center said, and the system could become Tropical Storm Bret tonight when it is expected to move through the islands.

It is producing tropical storm effects, though, and a tropical storm warning remains in effect for the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad, Tobago and Grenada.

Will this storm also eventually threaten the U.S.?

The hurricane center didn’t think so as of Monday morning, saying it should encounter a more hostile environment as it moves deeper in the Caribbean.

It is expected to dissipate in about 72 hours.

A bright full moon rises behind Birmingham’s Vulcan statue at Vulcan Park on Red Mountain. (Birmingham News, Hal Yeager)

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