Tropical Storm Earl, the fifth named storm of the Atlantic season, developed “ahead of schedule” off the coast of Africa to join Hurricane Danielle on a trek to the west, the National Hurricane Center said.
Earl grew out of a tropical depression about 520 miles (837 kilometers) west of the Cape Verde Islands and has maximum sustained winds of 40 miles (63 kilometers) per hour, according to a hurricane center advisory at about 4:30 p.m. Miami time.
“In an average Atlantic season from 1966 to 2009, statistically the fifth named storm of the season doesn’t arrive until Aug. 31,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the center. “So we’re six days ahead of schedule, statistically.”
The 2010 season has been ahead of the statistical average since June, when the first hurricane of the year formed. That usually doesn’t happen until Aug. 10, Feltgen said. The year 1966 is used as a starting point because that was when continuous satellite coverage of Atlantic storms began, he said.
The current season is also expected to be above-normal in the number of storms that form. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center predicted 14 to 20 named storms, above the 11 that develop in an average season.
Danielle, the second hurricane of the season, has maximum sustained winds of 85 miles (140 kilometers) per hour and is a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. It’s about 685 miles east-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands, according a hurricane center advisory, and is moving northwest at 17 mph.
The hurricane center’s tracking maps show Danielle curving north toward Bermuda and Earl moving west on a path north of the Leeward Islands during the next five days.
Earl probably “will remain an oceanic storm and not a threat to U.S. interests,” said Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
Rouiller said the system that concerns him will be moving off Africa soon.
“This could be our first real formidable threat to the Gulf, but that is still at least 10 days away,” Rouiller said.
The weather pattern that is shielding the U.S. from Danielle will be breaking up by early September, leaving the Gulf of Mexico open to a strike, he said.
“There will be a strong, steady flow from east to west, a conveyor belt between Cape Verde to the East Coast to the Gulf,” Rouiller said.
Such a track would threaten Florida, the second-largest orange producer behind Brazil, along with the Gulf, home to about 31 percent of U.S. oil output and about 10 percent of natural gas production.
Rouiller said he is also concerned about a threat to the U.S. from storms developing in the Caribbean, the area that produced Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Katrina killed more than 1,800 people along the Gulf Coast and caused levees in New Orleans to fail, flooding the city.
“The hottest water in our hemisphere is right there in our backyard,” Rouiller said. “Katrina, Rita and Ivan, some of the real memorable ones, share the same birthplace.”
Rouiller said he’s more confident that the Gulf and Florida will become targets for hurricane strikes as the Sept. 6 U.S. Labor Day holiday approaches.
Government forecasters are monitoring a patch of clouds and thunderstorms over the central Gulf that has a 10 percent chance of developing into a depression in the next two days, the center said.
In the eastern Pacific, Tropical Storm Frank intensified into the third hurricane of that ocean’s season, moving west- northwest at 13 mph. Frank’s top winds are 75 mph, making it a Category 1 storm, according to the hurricane center.
It may turn northeast toward Mexico’s Baja California peninsula and weaken to a tropical storm by early next week, the center said.