AccuWeather forecasters keeping a close eye on the tropics
AccuWeather meteorologists are continuing to closely watch areas over the waters in the western Caribbean and the south-central Gulf of Mexico for signs of tropical development and potential risk to lives and property in the region, including the United States.
Satellite photos on Monday revealed gathering clouds over part of the region around Central America. At midweek, some persistent thunderstorm activity remained over the southwestern part of the Caribbean, which was a continuation of weather that developed over the weekend.
Thunderstorms continued to erupt over the southwestern Caribbean and farther west over the eastern Pacific in the waters surrounding Central America on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. (GOES-East/NOAA)
A broad area of low pressure and weak rotation is expected to develop later this week around Central America, an atmospheric feature known as the Central American gyre.
The rising air and slight spin in the atmosphere produced by the gyre create enhanced conditions under which a disturbance can come along and initiate tropical development, especially over the warm water in the region. The formation of the gyre is more typical during the summer and autumn, but it can form as early as April.
As AccuWeather forecasters have been pointing out, this part of the Atlantic basin is a pre-season and early hurricane season trouble spot as waters are typically plenty warm this time of the year to support and fuel tropical development. And this year waters are up to a few degrees above average in some places. Water temperatures are generally in the low to mid-80s F this week.
"Whether or not a tropical system forms and where it tracks initially may come down to where the center of the gyre develops," AccuWeather Meteorologist Matt Benz said.
If the gyre ends up forming farther west or over land, any disturbance that might develop is likely to track farther west over land or perhaps even on the Pacific Ocean side of Central America, Benz said. If the gyre forms and is oriented more to the east, then there could be a better chance for any tropical system that might form to drift northward from the northwestern Caribbean to the southern Gulf of Mexico, he added.
Benz said that with water temperatures being as warm as they are in the northwestern Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, should a tropical system form and move over those waters, there would be ample opportunity for strengthening if it tracked northward.
Initially, forecasters thought there was a chance for development later this week, but as overall conditions have changed, AccuWeather meteorologists believe development is more likely to occur sometime next week.
AccuWeather's tropical weather group, led by Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski, has been anticipating the formation of a tropical system prior to the official start of the Atlantic Hurricane season, which is June 1.
Every year since 2015, a tropical storm has formed prior to June 1. Last year, Tropical Storm Ana formed over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on May 22 and diminished a day later. The 2021 season went on to produce 21 named storms, which was well above average and the third most active hurricane season on record.
"I tend to think we will get the genesis of a tropical system in the region around Central America or southeastern Mexico late this weekend or next week, but where such a system may track cannot be determined just yet," Kottlowski said.
"There are a number of players on the field at this time including the potential development of a high-pressure area farther to the north over the U.S. which could steer any tropical system toward Central America, southeastern Mexico or perhaps the western and central Gulf Coast of the U.S.," Kottlowski continued. Should that high-pressure area end up being weaker, then there may be more of a pathway toward the eastern Gulf coast, such as Florida or Cuba next week, he added.
AccuWeather is predicting a well-above-average hurricane season for the Atlantic this year with 16-20 named systems of which six to eight are likely to go on to become hurricanes. From four to six systems are expected to have a direct impact on the U.S. this year, according to AccuWeather's annual Atlantic hurricane season forecast.
The last early-season tropical system to form near Central America was Cristobal in 2020 on June 1. The tropical storm ended up moving northward and made landfall along the central Gulf Coast of the U.S., packing 50-mph sustained winds.
The tropical Atlantic has yielded five hurricanes in May over the last 160 years. The most recent May hurricane was hardly recent at all -- more than a half a century ago. Hurricane Alma formed way back in May 1970, a storm that eventually made landfall on the northwestern Florida Peninsula as a tropical depression. Alma formed in the same general area of concern in the western Caribbean as being watched this year.
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