Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the weekly weather newsletter, the CNN Weather Brief, which is released every Monday. You can sign up here to receive them every week and during significant storms.
We are nearly a month into the Atlantic hurricane season and the tropics are finally coming alive, as we suddenly have three areas to keep our eyes on. It’s something to watch as many of you are making Independence Day plans.
I’ll start with the one that has the best shot of becoming our next tropical system. It’s still very far out at sea but looks the most like a tropical storm at this point.
“Shower and thunderstorm activity has increased in association with a tropical wave located about 950 miles east-southeast of the southern Windward Islands,” said the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in this morning’s tropical outlook. “Environmental conditions appear conducive for further development, and a tropical depression is likely to form during the next couple of days.”
The system won’t even reach the Windward Islands until Tuesday night and will then head into the southern Caribbean Sea. Right now, the NHC has a 70% chance of this system developing into our next tropical system during the next 48 hours, and a 90% chance of development within the next five days.
Conditions are favorable for this storm to develop. Wind shear (winds that change direction or speed as you go up in the atmosphere that typically tear apart tropical systems) is low in this area, giving the storm an environment to thrive. It’s likely that this storm will continue to strengthen.
If this system becomes our next named system, it would take the name Bonnie. To become designated as Bonnie, the storm must have sustained winds of at least 39 mph. If the hurricane hunters find winds of less than 39 mph, it could first become a tropical depression, but tropical depressions are given numbers; it won’t get a name until it’s at least tropical-storm strength.
If you look at forecast models for this potential system, the track it takes is incredibly far south, possibly impacting Venezuela and the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao). Keep an eye on this one if you are planning to travel there soon.
Since 1950, a named storm has never directly hit Aruba. But 13 storms have come within 60 nautical miles of the island, according to the NHC.
Getting a system to develop this far south is quite normal for an early season storm. After all, that’s where some of the warmest water is.
“The latitude at which easterly waves come off of the coast of Africa tends to shift northward over the next couple of months, so getting systems coming off of the coast at 8-10°N is fairly common for this time of year,” said Phil Klotzbach, an atmospheric science research scientist at Colorado State University.
A NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft is scheduled to investigate this system later on Monday, so we will know more about the storm by tonight.
“Regardless of development, locally heavy rainfall is possible over the Windward Islands and the northeastern coast of Venezuela Tuesday night and Wednesday,” said the NHC.
Most of the models keep this storm on an extremely southern track through its lifespan, then possibly making landfall in Nicaragua by the weekend. Obviously, that can change, but in any event, this one won’t have an impact on the US.
The other two systems have a very low chance of becoming something tropical but are still worth mentioning because they have a higher potential to impact the coasts of the US.
The first is located just off the coast of south Louisiana. The cluster of storms will meander to the southwest over the next few days, staying over the warm water in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Development of this system is expected to be slow to occur while it moves west-southwestward at about 10 mph toward the northwestern Gulf of Mexico and approaches the coasts of southern Texas and northeastern Mexico during the next few days,” said the NHC.
Interestingly, the water in the Gulf of Mexico is already extremely warm. Some buoys are already reading 92 degrees in some locations. That’s about 5 degrees above normal for this time of year. But we know the Gulf of Mexico is warm enough every year to support nasty storms – it takes more than warm water for storms to thrive.
“Other factors are more important for Gulf hurricanes,” said Klotzbach. “Wind shear, mid-level moisture and having pre-existing disturbances that develop once they reach the Gulf (or track into the Gulf from elsewhere). Of course, if all those conditions are already there and the waters are warmer than normal, that could certainly exacerbate issues.”
Luckily these factors shouldn’t lead to development in the Gulf this week. The NHC has set the chance for tropical development at 10% over the next 48 hours and 20% within the next five days.
However, parts of the coasts of Texas and Mexico could see an increase in shower activity this week – with this weak system drifting around.
The last system to mention is several hundred miles southwest of the Cabo Verde Islands and is producing some showers and storms.
“Environmental conditions could become conducive for gradual development later this week while the system moves west-northwestward at around 15 mph over the central tropical Atlantic,” said the NHC.
There’s only a 20% chance of this system developing during the next five days, but it’s something worth watching as the week progresses, because some of the models are taking this on a more northward track. This means it could bring cloudiness and rain to the Leeward Islands and possibly the Bahamas by the Fourth of July weekend.
It feels a bit like someone turned the light switch on the hurricane season. Not that we are suddenly crazy active, but just for the fact that we finally have something to watch.
The last seven hurricane seasons brought us at least one named storm prior to the start of the season (June 1) – and this one didn’t.
Being nearly a month in with only one named Atlantic storm – Alex – seems a little quieter, at least compared to the last several years. By this time in 2021 and 2020, we were already on or past our fourth named storm.
But according to Klotzbach, that doesn’t mean much in terms of how busy the season will end up being.
“There is very little correlation between hurricane activity prior to 1 August and what occurs the rest of the season,” said Klotzbach.
In climatological terms, the Atlantic hurricane season really begins to ramp up in August, before peaking in September.
“We have certainly had quiet starts to the season that ended up very busy,” Klotzbach said. “For example, we didn’t get our first named storm in 2004 until August.”
Interestingly, the 2004 season used the same list of names we are using this year; however, you’ll notice six of the names are different compared to the 2004 list – because some names were retired due to the destructive nature of the associated storm. In 2004, four major storms directly impacted Florida in just six weeks – Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.
“Also, through August 15, the 2017 season was slightly below normal, but obviously ended up extremely active,” Klotzbach added.
If you haven’t prepared for the season yet, you should make sure to do that now. The season is clearly ramping up and you don’t want to be caught off guard.