The first hurricane of 2017 was born in the Bay of Campeche on Wednesday as another potential cyclone appeared on Florida’s doorstep and a disturbance in the Atlantic threatened from afar.
The outbreak of tropical activity, including an area of storminess over the Bahamas tagged with a 10 percent chance of development, came on the same day as a new federal forecast increased the number of named storms this season to as high as 19.
Calling the atmosphere primed for the most active season since 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also upped its predicted number of major hurricanes to between two and five. A major hurricane is a Category 3 or higher with wind speeds between 111 and 129 mph.
“We’re entering the peak of hurricane season when the bulk of storms usually form,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “The wind and air patterns in the area of the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean where many storms develop are very conducive to an above normal season.”
Wednesday’s forecast, which said there is a 60 percent chance for an above normal season, was an update of NOAA’s original May prediction that gave the season a 45 percent chance of being busier than average.
It followed other amended forecasts from AccuWeather and Colorado State University that also increased the level of activity expected this year.
In just the first nine weeks of this season there have been six named storms, which is half the number of storms during an average six-month season and double the number of storms that would typically form by early August.
An average Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.
“We’ve already had two impacts,” said AccuWeather hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski, noting tropical storms Cindy and Emily. “The water temperature is warm and the shear is weak.”
Bell said there are several factors contributing to the forecast for an above average season, including water temperatures that are 1 to 2 degrees above normal, the desertion of El Niño, weaker trade winds and early season activity in the deep tropics.
“The waters aren’t the warmest on record, but sufficient to favor a more active season,” Bell said.
The area of storminess given a 10 percent chance of development over the Bahamas on Wednesday is promising rains for the Sunshine State if not a full-fledged cyclone. Numerous showers and storms are expected across South Florida Thursday with a 60 percent chance of rain.
At the same time, Hurricane Franklin christened the peak of storm season, becoming an 85-mph storm before hitting mainland Mexico overnight. Forecasters have also been watching a disheveled group of thunderstorms 350 miles east of the Leeward Islands, giving it on Wednesday a 50 percent chance of becoming Gert — the next named storm.
The would-be Gert, now dubbed Invest 99L, has been fighting dry air and wind shear in its trek west from Africa, but is expected to enter a more favorable environment through the weekend.
Kottlowski said it’s difficult to forecast where the system may go when it hasn’t formed yet, but that early models show it clinging to the western edge of the Bermuda High and spinning up east of the Bahamas away from the U.S coastline.
“You can never be confident on a system like this until it’s fully developed,” he said. “So it’s important to stay alert.”