Tropical Storm Emily was a shock to the Sunshine State, but climatologically right on time — an alarm clock reminding Florida that the peak of hurricane season approaches.
While June 1 marks the official start of storm season, historically, 87 percent of days when hurricanes spun in the Atlantic were between August and October.
About 95 percent of all Atlantic basin major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher occur after Aug. 1.
“August is a time of transition in the Atlantic,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski in a column Tuesday. “There are a few clusters of thunderstorms moving westward off the coast of Africa being monitored. One or more of these could slowly brew.”
On Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center was giving a puffy white mass off cloudiness several hundred miles west of the Cabo Verde islands a 20 percent chance of development over the next five days.
If the low pressure system forms into something more threatening, Florida will have seen it coming from days away.
That was not the case with Tropical Storm Emily.
On Monday, the state had less than four hours between the NHC advisory alerting to the formation of tropical depression 6 and an Anna Maria Island landfall. Michael Lowry, of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, said the formation-to-landfall time of Emily was one of the quickest in the U.S. in the past 34 years. Just four storms of 121 were quicker, he said.
But the short-lived storm went easy on much of South Florida, which eyed the promise of torrential rainfall warily.
“Our engineers are calling it a moderate rain event for areas south of Lake Okeechobee,” said Randy Smith, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District. “The flood control system is in good shape and we’re in a 24-hour pattern of pumping with a lot of water moving out.”
The stalled frontal boundary that helped spin up Emily did menace Miami on Tuesday, dumping as much as 5 inches of rain in two hours, causing flooded streets at high tide, according to the National Weather Service.
In Palm Beach County, the highest rainfall amounts on Monday were in western areas near Lake Okeechobee, with Belle Glade measuring nearly 2 inches in a 24-hour period ending 8 a.m. Tuesday. The most coastal Palm Beach County received was in Jupiter, where 0.81 inches was recorded by the water management district.
The Treasure Coast and communities north of Lake Okeechobee saw higher amounts as Emily trekked through the state late Monday, dragging rain bands with it. Areas in Okeechobee County measured more than 4 inches, Martin County’s highest amount was 3.72 inches, and Port Saint Lucie in St. Lucie County received 2.65 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service in Melbourne.
John Campbell, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said Lake Okeechobee stood at 12.81 feet above sea level Tuesday morning, up 0.08 feet in 24 hours, but within the comfort zone of between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet.
“Early indications suggest Emily didn’t produce enough rain that would cause the lake to rise to the point where guidance would recommend discharges,” Campbell said. “However, we will continue to monitor conditions and make adjustments should it become necessary.”
With the heart of hurricane season still ahead — the peak is early September, with the sharpest increase in storms between Aug. 20 and Sept. 11 — the concern is a significant tropical system could push the lake high enough that water would need to be released through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. Releases last year helped seed a damaging algae bloom.
“It’s a very tricky balance to retain just enough water to get us through the dry season, but not enough that if a tropical system comes we’ll have to dump water,” Campbell said.
Forecasts for this hurricane season have predicted an above average number of storms. Colorado State University’s updated forecast is scheduled to be released Friday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expected to release its August forecast next week.
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