Tropical storm could form off the East Coast this weekend before hurricane season even begins

Bill Olesner walks down South Battery St. while cleaning debris from storm drains on September 5, 2019 in Charleston, South Carolina. Hurricane Dorian is just off the coast of South Carolina.

Sean Rayford | Getty Images

The Atlantic hurricane season’s first tropical storm could develop near Florida and the Bahamas this weekend, according to forecasting from the National Hurricane Center, continuing a trend toward more preseason storms in the Atlantic in recent years. 

There’s about a 50% chance the area of pressure will form into a depression or storm off the East Coast within the next few days. If it forms, receiving the name Arthur, it will mark the sixth year that a storm has developed before the official start of hurricane season on June 1.

“If Arthur is named then it would remain rather disorganized safely off the Southeast coast where it may drift for days,” said BAM Weather Meteorologist Ryan Maue, who added the main threat will be to shipping and boating along the coasts. 

Hurricane season in 2020 is expected to be exceptionally active, with at least 16 forecast tropical storms, eight of which could become hurricanes.

The expected strength is due primarily to a developing La Nin aa, a climate pattern that leads to cooling of surface ocean waters in the tropical Pacific that supports favorable atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic for hurricanes.

Climate change has caused more frequent and intense disasters across the U.S. and the Atlantic hurricane season has become longer as ocean temperatures rise. 

Whether or not Arthur forms over the weekend, some hurricane researchers are urging that the official start date of hurricane season be moved to mid-May to represent the mounting number of storms forming earlier than June. The current official start and end dates set by the Hurricane Center are June 1 and Nov. 30 but could be shifted. 

Five-Day Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook.


Seven tropical storms have impacted the U.S. in May over the last decade. The most recent of those was Tropical Storm Andrea, which hit Florida in May 2019 and caused three deaths.

Researchers argue that an earlier start to the season would reduce risk and economic damage as people would be more prepared to respond to a storm. 

“Having a storm threat occur ‘in season’ means the public is more prepared to respond to warnings,” said Ryan Truchelut, president of WeatherTiger, a seasonal forecasting company.

The dates that bookend the official hurricane season were selected in 1965 and predated significant changes in forecasting methods, according to Truchelut, and may not take into account the mounting number of preseason storms. The dates are used as a guide for the Hurricane Center on putting resources into providing outlooks and forecast packages to people in the potential paths of storms. 

“Our concern is that a storm like Tropical Storm Allison, which caused 41 U.S. deaths and nearly $10 billion in damages in early June 2001, could occur a few days earlier and fall outside of hurricane season,” Truchelut said. “A slower public reaction would have the potential to worsen the impacts of such a storm.” 

An official estimate of the number of storms during the 2020 season is expected from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on May 21.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials are preparing social distancing measures in emergency response plans to reduce the spread of the coronavirus during storm evacuations this year, since packed evacuation shelters could be hot-beds for disease spread. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which faces immense challenges and limited resources in dealing with the pandemic and impending climate disasters, has $6 billion on hand for federal response to the virus and $80 billion in disaster relief funds. 

The agency will release guidelines for local governments on how to handle hurricane season and has built a second National Response Coordination Center to respond to non-virus related response. 

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