(Miami, Fl) Despite forecasters predicting a “near-normal” 2012 hurricane season, it is already off to an early start even before the June 1 official start date.
Two tropical cyclones have already formed in the Atlantic prior to June 1, the first, Tropical Storm Alberto formed off the coast of South Carolina on May 19 and remained off the east coast of the United States until it weakened and was no longer considered a tropical cyclone by the National Hurricane Center on May 22.
Tropical Storm Beryl was first recognized as a tropical depression on May 25 at 11:00 P.M. by the National Hurricane Center off the Florida coast and made landfall as a Tropical Storm with winds estimated at 70 mph near Jacksonville Beach, Fl. shortly after 12:00 A.M. on Memorial Day.
According to historical records from the National Weather Service, the last time that two Atlantic storms were formed before June 1 was in 1908. The only other year that two storms formed before the official start of the hurricane season was in 1887.
The 1887 hurricane season tied 1995 as the third most active hurricane season on record with 10 of the named storms becoming hurricanes, two of which reached catageory 3 status, a major hurricane but neither made landfall. The 1908 season produced six hurricanes with only one being classified as category 3, which made landfall in Nicaragua.
NOAA Predicts Near Normal Hurricane Season
According to a May 24 advisory put out by NOAA forecasters there is a 70 percent chance of there being between nine to 15 named storms, of which four to eight will become hurricanes. Of these, one to three are predicted to become major hurricanes (winds in excess of 111 mph and up to or greater than 157 mph based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale).
While forecasters do not predict if any of the hurricanes will make landfall, they stress it only takes one land-falling hurricane to have disastrous consequences. A warning some may say is prolific given this is the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Andrew which devastated parts of southern Florida in August 1992.
In their technical discussion forecasters caution that the number of hurricanes that form may be lower and less intense than expected during the peak months of the season - August-October if El Nino conditions develop.
Forecasters also base their forecast in part on predicted sea surface temperatures and wind shear in the far eastern Atlantic. Strong wind shear and low sea surface temperatures are currently in place in the Atlantic and Caribbean Oceans, called the Main Development Region by forecasters. These two conditions tend to limit hurricane development.
Enhancements to two forecast models help forecasters better predict the track and strength of storms
This year forecasters are using enhancements made to two of the main models used to forecast hurricane track and strength: The Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) models.
The latest version of the HWRF model has demonstrated a 20 to 25 percent increase in predicting the track hurricanes take and a 15 percent improvement in the strength of hurricanes. Improvements in the GFDL model made this year are expected to decrease its tendency to over-forecast the strength of hurricanes.
An updated forecast will be issued in early August by forecasters, just prior to the start of the peak of hurricane season.