Photo | Tropical Storm Ana. Via NOAA, NASA.
I was hoping to not write about hurricane season so soon, but as the world turns, so does the atmosphere and the tropics. Already, you’ve probably heard some seasonal outlooks for an above-average hurricane season. Already, there have been social media posts and shares about a tropical system in the Gulf making landfall in the distant future, which is now in the past.
Already, those posts have proven to be false alarms. Already, the first named storm of the season formed in the Atlantic, with no impact to land. Already, a tropical disturbance was in the western Gulf but quickly moved inland before developing.
Have you had enough, already?! I have. Take a deep breath and let’s move forward.
That first named storm in the Atlantic was Ana, a subtropical storm that became a tropical storm. Subtropical means it was a hybrid between a tropical storm and a regular, low-pressure storm system. The technical distinctions are minor if a subtropical storm strikes your community. Ana didn’t last long and that’s typical for preseason storms.
The logical question is, “Does a preseason or early season named storm tell us anything about the rest of the hurricane season?” Scan through the history of the past six seasons and you’ll see that each one had a named storm before June. Each of those seasons produced very different numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes, with different numbers of landfalls. Last year had a record 30 named storms, with 14 of them being hurricanes. In 2015, there were 11 named storms, with four of them being hurricanes; two tropical storms made landfall in the contiguous U.S. Compare that to last year, when a record 12 tropical storms and hurricanes made landfall in the same territory.
That data quickly confirms that an early start to hurricane season tells us nothing about how it finishes. Tropical weather doesn’t follow logic — it follows ingredients. Last year was a testament to that, when the key ingredients of warm ocean water and low wind shear persisted.
With more and more early and preseason storms forming and being detected, the World Meteorological Organization may eventually vote to move the calendar start of hurricane season into May. The dates we assign to hurricane season are based on averages, and when the averages change, the dates will change.
Seasonal outlooks for tropical activity generally tell us nothing about what may transpire right here later in the season. There may be many weeks before something else pops up in the Atlantic. There could be one or two systems forming later and taking similar tracks. There may be a monster storm, the likes of which have never been seen. There may just be a handful of named storms this year. Nobody knows beforehand. We’ll take the season week by week. Don’t worry. Have a plan.
Alan Sealls is chief meteorologist at NBC15 and an adjunct meteorology professor at the University of South Alabama.
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here