Meteorologists monitor for early-season Atlantic tropical system
While the official start of the Atlantic basin tropical season is still half a month away, meteorologists are already keeping an eye on one section of the basin for possible development prior to the start of the season. The official start of the Atlantic tropical season is June 1, each year. Earlier this year, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) began considering if the Atlantic Hurricane season should also begin on May 15, given the number of early-season storms in recent years. The East Pacific tropical season already started on May 15, and the basin has already had one named tropical system, Tropical Storm Andres. Now, AccuWeather meteorologists are shifting their focus on the Atlantic Basin, watching the waters surrounding the Bahamas, southern Florida and Cuba. “It is possible that the environmental conditions could be just right in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico northwest Caribbean Sea and southwest Atlantic Ocean for a tropical or subtropical depression to develop,” explained AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Rob Miller. In the Atlantic basin, tropical storms that develop before the official start of the season and early in the season tend to form closer to the U.S. The relatively shallow water in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Southeast coast of the U.S. is able to heat up faster than deeper water located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Warm waters and light winds, are two of the main factors necessary for an organized tropical system to develop. “Low pressure could form along a front near southern Florida or the Bahamas late this week or next weekend, and if so, it may strengthen. However, chances for tropical development at this time are still quite low,” Miller said. CLICK HERE FOR THE FREE ACCUWEATHER APP It is a semi-regular occurrence to see tropical development in the Atlantic basin before the start of the season. In fact, last year’s hyperactive 2020 Atlantic hurricane season produced two tropical storms prior to the official start of the season: Arthur and Bertha. This was the first occurrence of two pre-season tropical storms in the Atlantic since 2016, but over the past six hurricane seasons, seven tropical storms have formed between May 15 and June 1. Even without an organized tropical system late this week, the weather pattern may favor some rain for parts of the region that could really use the rain. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, portions of the Florida Peninsula, mainly south of Lake Okeechobee, are abnormally dry with some spotty reports of moderate drought. Additionally, Nassau in the Bahamas has only had about half of its normal rainfall since April 1. The Bahamas Department of Meteorology put the northwestern portion of the islands, as well as the western half of Cuba, on a “drought watch” back in March. “Regardless of development, some much-needed rainfall could target both southern Florida and the Bahamas,” Miller said. Elsewhere across the basin, tropical development is not expected in the coming week. In fact, a massive plume of Saharan dust emerged off of the African coast earlier this week. This plume of dust is nearly a month ahead of the average pace, and it could be seen in satellite images spreading westward across a large corridor of the Atlantic basin. Satellite imagery of the dust plume from the Sahara trekking across the Atlantic toward the Lesser Antilles on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (NOAA/GOES-16) The cloud of dust is part of what’s known as the Saharan Air Layer (SAL), which usually occupies a 2- to- 2.5-mile-thick layer of the atmosphere, with a base starting about 1 mile above the surface, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This dust cloud is not expected to be as monstrous as the Saharan dust event that impacted the Gulf Coast and into the central U.S. June of 2020. For reference, the dust event that occurred in June 2020, was one of the most significant events in the past 50 years and it was even referred to as the “Godzilla dust cloud,” according to The Associated Press. Due in part to the dust and dry air present across the tropics currently, along with other factors, the open water portion of the Atlantic basin will likely remain quiet in the coming days, and perhaps even leading up to the official start of hurricane season on June 1. Early season dust and dry air from Africa is one of the reasons tropical activity is often suppressed early on in the tropical season. According to AccuWeather meteorologists, the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season will be another busy one, but is set to be less hectic than 2020’s non-stop season. AccuWeather long-range meteorologists expect 16-20 named storms during the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, 7-10 of which they believe will strengthen into hurricanes. Although this season will be more active than average, it is not expected to surpass the hyperactive 2020 hurricane season in which 30 storms were named. The first Atlantic basin storm to officially form in 2021 will be given the name Ana. With the official start to the hurricane season just around the corner, now is the time to prepare for the dangers the hurricane season can bring. Such preparations should include putting together an updated evacuation plan and having a stocked hurricane preparedness kit. 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