Atlantic will produce tropical storm soon, meteorologists say

But two researchers say it will be a slightly reduced hurricane season, partly because of a developing El Niño.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The tropics are about to heat up – in a stormy sort of way.

The Atlantic's first tropical storm of the year will be named shortly, meteorologists say. And at least two more storms could form in the next two to three weeks, according to some computer forecasts. What this means is that residents living along the East Coast will need to pay attention to the weather forecast.

"We will be getting to the peak of the tropical season over the next two months," says Brian Edwards, a meteorologist at AccuWeather.com. "By [Wednesday] morning, we could have our first named storm."

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The first name for a storm this year will be Ana.

Currently, a storm system is a few hundred miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands, which are off the coast of Africa. Even if it becomes tropical storm Ana, it's not expected to become a full-fledged hurricane. "At this point, it probably would not, but it's too early to tell," Mr. Edwards says.

However, to the east of what could become Ana is another, more potent tropical wave – a low-pressure zone over Africa that should emerge into the Atlantic in the next 12 to 24 hours. "Once it's off the coast, it enters an area that is favorable to development," he says.

The second system would be entering an Atlantic that is considerably more humid as a result of the first system. This is one reason that some AccuWeather computer models show a powerful storm developing in the next 12 to 15 days. "Some of the models have it going up the East Coast. Some have it going out to sea," says Edwards.

Yet a third tropical wave is east of the Lesser Antilles. That system could move into the Gulf of Mexico, Edwards says. But, he adds, right now the Caribbean is a very hostile place for hurricane development.

That hostile environment is partly the result of a developing El Niño event. El Niño is when some of the Pacific Ocean's waters become warmer than normal, affecting the wind currents. Those wind currents can create wind shear in the Caribbean, which inhibits hurricane development in the Atlantic.

The developing El Niño is partly why Philip Klotzbach and William Gray of Colorado State University adjusted their forecast for the Atlantic area a week ago. In June, they called for 11 named storms; now, they're calling for 10 named storms, two of them major hurricanes. Their work, much of it based on statistical data, shows a slightly reduced hurricane season.

"We think this will be a below-normal hurricane season, comparable to 2002 and 2006," says Mr. Klotzbach. "In those years, there were no major hurricanes that had a landfall."

But, he adds, "It only takes one storm in your area for it to be an active hurricane season for you."

It's not unusual to have some below-average hurricane years, Klotzbach and Mr. Gray say in their August analysis. But this doesn't change their view that for the next 10 to 15 years, the Atlantic hurricane seasons will be active.

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