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The tropics are heating up and it’s only July... so what does that mean for the rest of season?

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

July is typically a sleepy time for tropical systems in the Atlantic basin when early season action gives way to a balm of cyclone-thwarting Saharan dust that can last through mid-August.

But on Monday, the National Hurricane Center was watching three areas of interest, including Tropical Storm Edouard, which formed late Sunday as the earliest “e”-named storm on record.

None of the systems are a direct threat to South Florida – Edouard was 435 miles southeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland Monday afternoon and heading toward extratropical oblivion – and pre-peak season activity isn’t a good predictor for the brawnier systems of late August through October.

Still, some hurricane experts said it’s unusual to have so many tropical cyclones form from non-tropical systems, such as cold fronts, before Aug. 1.

While most tropical storms and hurricanes are products of easterly waves that tumble off West Africa through the main runway of the Atlantic, this year’s Arthur, Dolly and Edouard spun off non-tropical weather systems, said Todd Kimberlain, a senior meteorologist with the South Florida Water Management District.

2020 hurricane season continues to break records with formation of Tropical Storm Edouard; 2 other systems being monitored

“There is this influence from the mid-latitudes that you can’t ignore and I think we’ve developed a better appreciation for that over time,” said Kimberlain, who previously worked as a senior hurricane specialist at the NHC. “I’m not sure if it says anything about overall probability of tropical activity because these are forming outside the deep tropics, but sometimes we see years that it’s just favorable throughout the season.”

One of the systems being watched is an area of low pressure that formed in the Gulf of Mexico, moved through Florida’s Panhandle on Monday and is expected to exit off the coast of the Carolinas Tuesday or Wednesday. The NHC was giving this system a 40 percent chance of developing once it reaches the Atlantic.

If it becomes a tropical storm, it would be named Fay and could break a record for the earliest “f”-named storm. The current record holders for both the e and f storms – Emily and Franklin - are both from the hyperactive 2005 storm season that racked up 27 named storms.

Emily, which became a tropical storm on July 11, grew into the earliest forming Category 5 hurricane in the Caribbean Sea. It made a July 18 landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula as a Cat 4 storm.

Franklin, which formed July 21, was a tropical storm that sideswiped the northern Bahamas before heading out to sea.

The third area under consideration by the NHC is a fast-moving tropical wave a few hundred miles east of the Windward Island. It had just a 10 percent chance of development, but was expected to drench the Lesser Antilles on Tuesday.

“We’ve been talking all along about how busy this season was going to be,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Paul Walker. “So far, we’ve seen a lot of homegrown type stuff.”

Kimberlain said a blocking area of high pressure near the Great Lakes or northeast has caused cold fronts to move very slowly or stall over the same areas, giving hiccups of low pressure a chance to form similar to the one that moved through the Florida Panhandle on Monday.

NHC hurricane specialists Eric Blake said the system “would have been trouble with another day over warm water.”

Its chances of becoming Fay increase if it reaches the Gulf Stream, Walker said.

“There are some indications it may stay over land and never gets a chance to develop,” he said. “But if it moves over water, it will have more time to pick up wind intensity.”

Leading hurricane forecasts, including from the federal Climate Prediction Center, AccuWeather, Colorado State University and Weather.com have forecasted an above normal hurricane season primarily because of the lack of a hurricane-killing El Nino climate pattern.

The most recent El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forecast calls for neutral conditions through the summer with roughly equal chances of La Nina or neutral conditions in the fall. While El Nino tends to thwart hurricane formation with wind shear, La Nina is more accommodating to tropical cyclones.

If predictions hold true, it will be the fifth consecutive year of above-normal activity, beating the previous 4-year streak set between 1998 and 2001.

Kmiller@pbpost.com

@Kmillerweather