All Eyes on Atlantic as Potential Tropical Storm Stirs

The Atlantic has begun to stir.

While there aren’t any tropical storms on the map, a candidate has caught the eyes of forecasters and is being watched by the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

As of yesterday -- the day marking the start of the most active part of the six-month hurricane season -- the center gave the area of “shower and thunderstorm activity” hundreds of miles east of the Windward Islands a 60 percent chance of becoming the season’s next storm within five days.

For the past few days, some computer forecast models have suggested it will become at least a tropical storm, Cristobal, and end up swirling into the Gulf of Mexico next week.

Before anyone runs to the hardware store to buy plywood, it’s important to note that earlier this week, one computation had the system hitting Houston while another had it landing in New Orleans, said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

Now there are models that take it over Hispaniola, Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote in his blog.

Hispaniola is home to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and some of the Caribbean’s highest mountains, which could shred any tropical system that gets near them.

Situation Fluid

A lot of things may change in the next few days.

One is that an actual storm may form. The models were designed to track real storms, not possible ones, the hurricane center’s James Franklin wrote in a blog post last month.

A potential storm is called an “invest,” short for “investigative area,” in the language of the forecasting community.

When it comes to invests, “the model guidance is notoriously poor and erratic,” said Franklin, branch chief of the hurricane specialist unit.

So, while it is important to keep an eye on the sea, no one can really say what a system is going to do until it gets here. Until then, the predictions are probably as good as tossing a tennis ball into a room full of dogs and trying to figure out which one will bury it in the backyard.

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