We are heading towards the end of June and already have three named storms for the Atlantic Hurricane Season. On cue, some are already claiming how unusual the start of this season is. Well in some respects, this season is unusual.
All three storms this season; Tropical Storm Arlene, Tropical Storm Bret, and Tropical Storm Cindy all had questionable designations thus far. In many cases, at least Arlene and Bret likely would not have been named if not for the improvement in technology.
In fact, here is verification of just that fact from the NHC itself with Tropical Storm Arlene:
Tropical storms in April are rare and Arlene is only the second one observed in this month during the satellite era. It should be noted, however, that this type of storm was practically impossible to detect prior to the weather satellite era.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Bret was classified as a Tropical Storm for less than 48 hours along the Venezuela coast and collapsed before even exiting the coastal waters. In years past, tropical low pressure systems like this likely would not have been investigated in years past due to our lack of technology, but improvements over the past 15 years has allowed for the NHC to better investigate these storms and thus name them, even for just 48 hours.
Finally, we have Tropical Storm Cindy.
The structure of Tropical Storm Cindy was frankly anything but tropical. You could make a case for a Sub-Tropical possibly. However, when you have strong dry air transport (note the red which means sinking air), warm and cold conveyor belts, and the majority of the thunderstorms and strong winds are well north and northeast of the surface low pressure system; that is when you have an extratropical storm, not tropical. Why? Because what I described was the very definition of an extratropical low with possibly a warm inclusion.
So how is it possible that this storm was named?
Well, we know the NHC is now more aggressive in naming tropical and sub-tropical storms in order to warn people of potential impacts like heavy rainfall and wind impacts. In fact, a new feature was released this year called Potential Tropical Cyclone or PTC. Potential Tropical Cyclones was a new designation to alert individuals of potential impacts of a tropical storm or hurricane 48 hours out, even though the low has not formed but has the potential to form. The point is to get alerts out to the public faster for them to prepare.
With these factors, you have to wonder how many more storms would have been named in the pre-satellite era, especially in years where the Atlantic Hurricane Season was especially active.
Going forward over the next several years, I think we’ll see more above normal Atlantic Hurricane Seasons, but not always because the historical atmospheric environment supports above normal activity. With a more aggressive approach to naming storm from the NHC coupled with impressive improvement in satellite technology and observations will mean storms that were missed in the past in the Atlantic are now going to be named. This year is a perfect example where at least one storm certainly would not have been named, and the case could be made for the other two as well.
The set up for this season, with the collapse of El Nino that was originally forecasted to be present, certainly supports a more active Atlantic Hurricane Season. How fast these storms will be named and the improvement in observations should lead to better lead time forecasts and a safer outcome overall.