Early start to 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season is not that rare!

It is not June 1 yet, the “official” start of the annual Atlantic hurricane season, and we have already had two named storms, Alberto and Beryl, in the basin. What is going on? How rare is this? Is this a glimpse of what is to come over the next six months?

GOES satellite image of 20 May 2012 showing water vapor in the atmosphere and Tropical Storm Alberto off the coast of northern Florida near Jacksonville
Visible light satellite image of 27 May 2012 showing tropical storm Beryl as it moved toward the coastline of northern Florida and southeastern Georgia

So both Alberto and Beryl were generated in the same area off the coast of northern Florida over the warm waters of the Gulf stream only one week apart, marking an early start for the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season.

Back to the question of how rare is it to have an early start for the Atlantic hurricane season?  Well, the answer to that is that it is not that rare, at least based on the recent historical record since 1950 when the naming of tropical cyclones generated in the Atlantic was instituted. In the 62 years from 1950 through 2011 there have been 13 times when there were tropical cyclones in the Atlantic prior to June, that is about 21% of the time for that period or more than one in five.

The years since 1950 when there were tropical cyclones generated prior to the official start of the annual season on June 1, were: 1951, 1952, 1953, 1959, 1970, 1972, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1992, 2003, 2007, and 2008.  On five of these early start seasons, 1972, 1976, 1978, 1992 and 2007 the early cyclones were actually subtropical storms, meaning either “cold core” storms that lacked some of the characteristics of tropical cyclones, or which combined attributes of both “warm core”  and “cold core”  systems. On six occasions, in 1952, 1953, 1959, 1981, 2003 and 2008, the early start annual season was marked by a tropical storm.

Of interest is the fact that both the early annual seasons in 1951 and 1970 actually got going with hurricanes. Category 3 Hurricane ABLE was generated on 15 May 1951, while category 1 Hurricane ALMA got going on 17 May 1970.

What else is happening in the tropics as we get going with early starts of both the eastern North Pacific and the North Atlantic 2012 hurricane seasons?  Currently what we are seeing is a more prevalent belt of tropical activity just north of the equator, as well as more continuous activity along the tropical-wave assembly line over equatorial Africa. Both of these elements are sources of potential contributors to tropical cyclone generation in the larger Atlantic basin. The current state of these tropical regions can be seen in the images below:

Full-disk satellite image of Earth's western hemisphere on 30 May 2012 showing the 'belt of tropical activity' recahing from the Eastern Atlantic to the Central Pacific
Color-enhanced infrared satellite image of 30 May 2012 showing the eastern North Atlantic and the western extreme of equatorial Africa with several tropical waves and cells of disturbed weather outlined in yellow
Mosaic of satellite images showing water vapor in the atmosphere and tropical waves and areas of disturbed weather over the Atlantic, eastern Pacific and Indian oceans on 30 May 2012

Composite mosaic of satellite images showing tropical activity on 30 May 2012 over the other half of Earth

Beyond the above all that is left to do is to monitor coupled atmospheric-oceanic conditions closely over coming weeks and months as the annual 2012 Atlantic hurricane season plays out. Above all we must pay attention! Be prepared!! And MITIGATE!!!

Tropical Storm ALBERTO Inaugurates 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season

GOES satellite image of 20 May 2012 showing water vapor in the atmosphere and Tropical Storm ALBERTO the first named-storm of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season just east of Jacksonville Florida  On Sunday 20 May, 2012 in the early evening Tropical Storm ALBERTO, the first-named tropical cyclone of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season is located to the northeast of Jacksonville, Florida and South of Charleston, South Carolina, with maximum sustained winds of 74 kph moving to the southwest. The storm is moving in an environment with low wind shear and it is forecast to make a 180 turn and head northeast within the next 24 hours, which will place on a track paralleling the coastline of the Carolinas. Alberto marks an early start for the Atlantic hurricane season that officially was set to start this coming 1 June 2012.

Win shear is rather weak over the area where Tropical Storm Alberto was located in the early evening of 20 May 2012

Farther south and east the Caribbean and west-central Atlantic are seeing quite a bit of tropical activity in the form of rain showers and thunderstorms that extend over Central America, the Antilles, Northern South America and a good portion of the eastern Pacific.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image of 20 May 2012 showing several tropical waves over Equatorial Africa moving westward toward the eastern Atlantic and 'hurricane alley'

Still farther east, over the eastern Atlantic and western Equatorial Africa several tropical waves are present moving westward toward ‘Hurricane Alley‘. It would appear the ‘Tropical Wave Assembly Line‘ will continue to be fed from the Indian Ocean where several large cells of disturbed weather are aiming for the mainland of Africa.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image of 20 May 2012 showing several cells of disturbed weather over the Northern Indian Ocean and eastern Equatorial Africa that may eventually feed into the 'tropical wave assembly line' and even 'hurricane aley' in the Atlantic
Color-enhanced infrared satellite image of 20 May 2012 showing a large cell of disturbed weather over the Northwestern Pacific moving toward the Philippines and showing potential for cyclonic development over the next day or so

Over the northern tropical Pacific there is a large cell of low pressure and stormy weather moving toward the Philippines over the northwestern Pacific, while off the western coast of Mexico to the south of Acapulco the persistent cell of low pressure that was chasing after now-defunct tropical storm Aletta, is still around showing some signs of organization.

Color-enhance infrared satellite image of 20 May 2012 showing a tropical wave around an area of low pressure over the eastern North Pacific off the coast of Mexico to the south of Acapulco

In summary, the northern tropics appear to be quite active with ‘official’ 2012 hurricane seasons already under way in both the eastern North Pacific and the northern Atlantic, and plenty of disturbed weather and tropical activity over the various basins and sub-basins where cyclogenesis typically takes place. It seems it is just a matter of time until we see the first tropical cyclones of 2012 over the Central Atlantic and the Northwestern Atlantic, as well as the Northern Indian Ocean.

All interests in and around the various oceanic basins where tropical cyclones generate must remain prepared, paying attention to tropical developments as they are announced and monitored, and above all be ready to implement or deploy those mitigation measures that have been designed and installed with the objective of reducing the potential for damage to buildings and structures from the impact of tropical cyclones. These will be the times to emphasize the protection of life and property. In this regard we must all remain conscious of the fact that regardless of how active or inactive the annual season is forecast to be in a given basin,  just one tropical cyclone is all that may be needed to cause loss of life, damage to property and untold human suffering!