Source: NASA/NOAA via Getty Images

U.S. East Coast Is an Early Target at Hurricane Season’s Start

  • Tropical systems likely in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean
  • Warm water, cold fronts, present promising conditions

When the Atlantic hurricane season starts next week, the most active area might just be off the U.S. East Coast.

At this time of year, passing cold fronts that linger over waters warmed by the late spring sun can trigger tropical storms there or off the Gulf of Mexico or western Caribbean, said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan. An area of thunderstorms and a weakening cold front have a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical or sub-tropical system in the next five days, the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday.

“Since these storms form close to land, they typically do not spend enough time over water to become major, land-falling hurricanes,” Masters said.

As the season and the summer progress, more of the Atlantic becomes a fertile breeding ground. The basin reaches its statistical peak for mayhem on Sept. 10, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. And by late summer, when the seas between the Caribbean and Cape Verde islands become particularly active, systems called African waves move through every three or four days, creating ideal conditions.

“African tropical waves, which serve as the instigators of about 85 percent of all major hurricanes, are usually too far south in June to trigger tropical-storm formation,” Masters said. Even though the waves don’t pose much of a threat this early in the season, storms did form in 2006 and 2008 with their help, he noted.

Memorial Day

The most promising location for storms now is the western Atlantic, according to the hurricane center, with some of the warmest sea-surface temperatures in the basin. The possibility is amplified by cold fronts that are still crossing the U.S. and depositing energy over that warm water, said Paul Walker, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

“The Caribbean and Gulf are more shallow than the deep Atlantic, so the water temperatures tend to warm faster in these areas,” said Matt Rogers, president of the Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

While tropical storms are a possibility, there’s still a lot of wind shear “so they normally don’t get as strong,” Rogers said. “Also, since they tend to have shorter duration over water versus the deep Atlantic systems, they have less time to get organized.”

Still, people who plan to get away for the Memorial Day weekend beginning Saturday should pay attention. While storms may not reach major hurricane status, they can pack a punch along the U.S. East Coast.

“It might not be what people want to hear for their Memorial Day plans,” Walker said.

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