From its origin in the northeast Caribbean, Fay moved slowly westward along the coast of Cuba, turned north, crossed the island, and took aim at the Florida Keys.
It picked up some intensity as it moved over the warm Florida Straits and crossed the Keys on Monday.
The storm then turned almost immediately toward the west coast of the Florida Peninsula and came ashore Tuesday at Cape Romano, just south of Naples.
From there, Fay moved slowly northeast across the state. But instead of weakening, as tropical storms almost always do over land, Fay intensified.
The reason, Blackwell said, was because Fay sidled up to an upper-level wind current that kept the storm's structure intact and allowed it to strengthen while over land.
Fay got another shot of energy when it drifted offshore and stalled over the Gulf Stream, a current of warm water that flows northward along the southeastern U.S. coast, said meteorologist Dennis Feltgen at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The storm made its third landfall late Thursday as it drifted back westward across Florida. Only three other tropical storms have made three landfalls in Florida since 1851, Feltgen said.
Staying Near Land?
Fay will likely drift slowly westward during the next two days and will eventually dissipate somewhere along the Gulf Coast, Feltgen said.
The University of South Alabama's Blackwell said Fay probably will remain over land as it moves westward, and that's lucky for the Gulf Coast. Were the storm to veer out over the Gulf of Mexico, it could quickly gain strength.
"The atmospheric environment is extremely favorable for the intensification of this storm over the northeast Gulf of Mexico if it gets away from the coastline," Blackwell said.
But the chances of the storm drifting out into the Gulf, he said, are "increasingly doubtful."
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