June 1st, the start of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, is rapidly approaching. We are already tracking what may become the first named storm of the season. This area of disturbed weather is being designated as Invest 90L by the National Hurricane Center, as it is expected to track into the Gulf of Mexico.
Within the past few years, hurricane season has began unusually early. In some recent years, its been nearly six months ahead of schedule. Here’s a list of the first named storm of the past ten years in the Atlantic basin, including the date formed.
- 2017: Arlene (April 19)
- 2016: Alex (January 7)
- 2015: Ana (May 6)
- 2014: Arthur (June 28)
- 2013: Barbara (May 28)
- 2012: Alberto (May 19)
- 2011: Arlene (June 28)
- 2010: Alex (June 24)
- 2009: Ana (August 11)
- 2008: Alma (May 29)
After looking at this list, you may find two of the storms that stand out from the rest: Barbara and Ana. Barbara was a very interesting storm because it actually didn’t originate in the Atlantic basin. It actually formed south of Mexico on May 28th, then tracked through the narrowest part of Mexico, from the Gulf of Tehuantepec to the Bay of Campeche. Before making landfall, it was a category one hurricane. By May 30th, it was still a tropical cyclone as it tracked into the Bay of Campeche, part of the Gulf of Mexico. The National Hurricane Center designated it as a tropical depression, thus making it the first tropical cyclone of the year in the Atlantic basin. It can also be argued that Tropical Storm Andrea was the first named storm because it actually formed in the Atlantic basin. The storm formed on May 6th and tracked along the East Coast as a weak storm.
The second storm, Ana, is also worth discussion. This storm formed on August 11th, over two months after the start of hurricane season. There was actually a tropical cyclone that formed before Ana that year. That was Tropical Depression One, which formed just off the East Coast of the US, but was not strong enough to be given a name. The 2009 Atlantic hurricane season ended with nine named storms, below the average of ten. There were also only three hurricanes, which is half the seasonal average.
The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season occurs before the official start of the season on average once out of every four to five years. Out of the last six years however, five of the six first storms actually formed before June 1st. Tropical activity is generally not too common outside of hurricane season due to cool sea surface temperatures and high wind shear, two ingredients not conducive for tropical cyclone development. Notice how in September, which is when tropical activity peaks, there is usually some of the season’s weakest wind shear and warmest ocean temperatures.
— Michael Lowry (@MichaelRLowry) May 8, 2018
Here’s a few other tidbits about early hurricane seasons:
- The most recent named storm to form in the Gulf of Mexico in May was a sub-tropical storm in 1976.
- Tropical cyclones that form in May will almost always originate over the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, or southwestern Atlantic Ocean.
- Four named storms have formed in the Gulf of Mexico in May on record (since 1851).
Will 2018 follow the short-term trend of early hurricane seasons? It’s possible. Parts of the United States may have to deal with Alberto this Memorial Day Weekend.