NEW: Gonzalo expected to become season’s first hurricane

Staff Writer
Walton Sun

Tropical Storm Gonzalo, which formed in the open Atlantic Wednesday morning, is expected to become the season’s first hurricane.

An 11 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center said Gonzalo has strengthened to a 50 mph-storm with a “hint of an eye” and well-defined center.

NHC forecasters have consistently said Gonzalo’s small size makes it difficult for an intensity forecast, but are not expecting the storm to reach hurricane strength with winds speeds topping out at 80 mph. That makes it a Category 1 storm.

Senior hurricane specialist Jack Beven said forecasting Gonzalo’s strength “remains very problematic.”

The official forecast has Gonzalo ramping up to hurricane strength by 8 a.m. Wednesday and maintaining hurricane-strength into Saturday before dropping to 70 mph winds east of Barbados.

Gonzalo, the seventh named storm of the year, breaks a record for the earliest g-named storm by two days. The previous record holder was Gert, which formed on July 24, 2005.

Gonzalo is about 1,250 miles east of the southern Windward Islands, and moving west-northwest at 12 mph.

While 2020 has been crushing records for earliest named storms, the systems have been mostly weak and short-lived.

Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University, notes that 2005 already had three hurricanes and two major hurricanes by July 21.

“2020 has yet to have a named storm reach hurricane strength,” Klotzbach said.

That doesn’t mean things will stay that way.

In a social media post on Tuesday, Klotzbach said the warm sea surface temperatures are similar to patterns that have historically meant more active hurricane seasons.

One thing that may limit Gonzalo’s intensity is its location so close to South America.

“This system is likely to encounter increasing wind shear as well as resistance from the large landmass of South America late this week since it is a bit far south compared to other tropical systems that have developed,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Adam Douty.

Possibly more pressing to the U.S. is a tropical wave slipping past Florida today. The system, which has been on the NHC’s radar since Sunday, has a 50 percent chance of formation over five days as it moves into the bathwater-warm Gulf of Mexico.

The National Hurricane Center upgraded the chances of the system, dubbed Invest 91L, becoming a tropical cyclone from 40 percent Tuesday night. It is expected to reach the northwestern Gulf on Thursday.

A Hurricane Hunter aircraft is scheduled to investigate the system today, if necessary.