A tropical storm so soon? Early arrivals have made a mess

Gilles St. Laurence says his house survived two hurricanes without damage but a possible tornado spun off from Tropical Storm Andrea hit his neighborhood in western Palm Beach County in 2013.
Gilles St. Laurence says his house survived two hurricanes without damage but a possible tornado spun off from Tropical Storm Andrea hit his neighborhood in western Palm Beach County in 2013. Sun Sentinel

Hurricane season officially started five days ago, and forecasters are already getting ready to name the third storm of the year.

While June 1 is the traditional start date for hurricane season, 2016 saw Hurricane Alex form early on in January. The first January hurricane since 1938, the storm made landfall in the Azones on Jan.15.

And as all eyes turn to follow Tropical Depression 3 in the Gulf of Mexico, South Carolina is recovering from the rains of Tropical Storm Bonnie, which just weakened to a tropical depression away from the East Coast.

Here’s a small sampling of other early storms from The Miami Herald archives:

Hurricane Andrea, June 2013

The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season in 2013 hit New England almost three years ago. The Associated Press reported record rainfall across New York and New England.

From the archives:

NEW YORK — The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season smashed rainfall totals across the Northeast and pushed some streams and creeks over their banks but sped up the Eastern Seaboard without causing major damage.

A weakened Andrea shifted away from New England on Saturday morning with winds gusting up to 45 mph. The storm was expected to reach Canadian waters by Sunday.

After bringing rain, strong winds and tornadoes to Florida, Andrea lost most of its tropical characteristics late Friday into Saturday. But it brought record rainfall for the date of June 7 for many cities and towns in the Northeast.

Andrea dumped 6.64 inches of rain on Gales Ferry, Conn.

The 4.16 inches that fell on New York City's Central Park was more than double the previous record for the date, set in 1918. The 3.5 inches of rain that fell at Philadelphia International Airport doubled the 1.79 inches that fell in 1904. Newark, N.J., saw 3.71 inches, breaking the previous mark of 1.11 inches set in 1931.

Elsewhere, cars were submerged in floodwaters on Long Island, and about 50 residents were displaced by a rising stream in Chester, Pa. A retaining wall collapsed early Saturday in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood, sending an avalanche of rubble sliding into an apartment building and leaving three families homeless. The storm was blamed for one traffic-related death in Virginia.

Late Friday, the National Hurricane Center in Miami discontinued all tropical storm warnings but cautioned about possible coastal and localized flooding from New Jersey to New England.

A number of roads were flooded in the Boston area. A flight that left Boston on Friday night headed to Palm Beach, Fla., was diverted to Newark Liberty International Airport after being struck by lightning. No one was injured.

In Florida, the weather service estimated that feeder bands from Andrea's remnants dropped more than 9 inches of rain on eastern Miami-Dade County and more than 6 inches of rain on eastern Broward County on Friday.

Tropical Storm Alberto, May 2012

This tropical storm brought a mass of storms that drenched South Florida for days the last week of May in 2012. It was the third tropical storm to form before June 1 in the past 31 years, according to Herald archives. It would be followed by a disorganized system that was strong enough to down power lines and tree branches in some areas.

From the archives:

Hurricane season jumped the gun this year, with short-lived Tropical Storm Alberto spinning up off South Carolina and forecasters monitoring a mass of storms that had drenched South Florida for days.

That puts one tropical storm on the books before the six-month season "officially" begins on June 1 — with an outside chance for two if the disorganized system that finally cleared the South Florida coast Thursday evening gets its act together in the coming days.

Fortunately, a fast start doesn't necessarily point to a hectic hurricane season. Federal forecasters on Thursday predicted a near-normal season ahead - likely on the low side of average if an El Niño weather pattern develops but higher if it does not.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual pre-season forecast calls for a likely range of nine to 15 named storms, with four to eight becoming hurricanes. Of those, one to three are expected to turn into major storms. Since 1981, an average season has produced 12 named storms with six hurricanes, three of them becoming major storms with Category 3 winds of 111 miles per hour or higher.

Though the storm count might be down a bit from the hyperactive seasons of the past decade, forecasters pointed to Hurricane Andrew 20 years ago as evidence that it takes only one landfall to produce a disastrous hurricane season. Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane with 165 mph winds, caused $25.5 billion in damage when it raked South Miami-Dade on Aug. 24, 1992.

"Just because we predict a near-normal season doesn't mean anyone is off the hook at all, " said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal forecaster for NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Ocean and atmospheric factors have fueled increasing hurricane activity since 1995, including near-average temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, Bell said. But the potential formation of El Niño is a wild card that has added uncertainty and widened the range of predicted storms, Bell said.

That weather pattern, marked by warming Pacific Ocean temperatures, typically tends to quiet the tropics in both storm numbers and intensity - in part by feeding upper-level wind that can weaken forming storms or sometimes rip them apart.

If an El Niño forms, it would likely help keep the storm count at the lower end of the forecast range, although computer models remain split on whether the pattern will build later this summer, Bell said.

NOAA's prediction, announced at the agency's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory on Virginia Key, was similar to a number of other experts' pre-season estimates.

Bell said the formation of Alberto, the third tropical storm to form before June 1 in the past 31 years, was an "unusual" occurrence but no indication of the season ahead. The vast majority of storms form from waves rolling off Africa.

Though Alberto quickly faded, the National Hurricane Center on Thursday upped the development prospects of a broad low-pressure system as it rolled over Florida Bay and the Middle Keys, giving it a 40 percent change of strengthening into a tropical system over the next few days. The system, with winds of up to 30 mph, was strong enough to down power lines and tree branches in some areas.

The National Weather Service's Miami office said the worst weather had cleared the South Florida coast by midafternoon, dropping rain chances for Friday and Saturday to just 20 percent. The risk could increase slightly by Sunday and Memorial Day if the system remains together and turns back toward the North Florida coast.

NOAA does not make landfall predictions, but during past "active to very active" years, there has been a 90 percent chance of a strike somewhere along the East Coast and an 80 percent chance of a Gulf Coast landfall. The odds of multiple strikes also go up during active years, as do the risk factors for Caribbean countries.

South Florida hasn't been hit by a major hurricane since Wilma in 2005, a record-breaking year that produced the most storms (28) and hurricanes (15), seven of them reaching major status.

Tropical Storm Arthur, May 31, 2008

Just like Tropical Depression 3 in 2016, this storm formed off the Yucatan Peninsula. But instead of heading for Florida, this storm headed for the Belize-Mexico border, according to an Associated Press story.

From the archives:

The first named storm of the 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season formed Saturday off the Yucatán Peninsula and quickly made landfall at the Belize-Mexico border, dumping rain and kicking up surf.

Tropical Storm Arthur was moving northwest across the Yucatan with maximum sustained winds near 40 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The storm formed one day before the official start of the season June 1, hitting land near the Mexican port city of Chetumal and Corozal in Belize.

It dumped rain as far south as Belize City and kicked up strong surf on the popular tourist island of Ambergis Caye.

In the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, which includes the popular resort of Cancún, ports were closed and all water sports were banned.

Residents and tourists were encouraged to take precautions in coastal areas, said state Civil Protection Director Carlos Rodríguez Hoy.

Ports were also closed on the islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres and in Chetumal.

Authorities expected rains of up to a little more than an inch from the passing remnants of Arthur, Rodriguez said.

In northern Belize, the National Emergency Management Organization expected about four inches of rain and warned of possible flooding around the Azul Hondo River.

Rain and rough seas ruined vacations for tourists in Ambergis Caye. "I just came to lay in the sun and get a nice tan, but so far there hasn't been any sunshine, " said Debbie Fountaineau, a police officer from Lake Charles, La., who arrived on the island Thursday.

The storm was projected to weaken as it crosses the Yucatán before moving out into the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical depression early Sunday. There was a chance it could strengthen back into a tropical storm before hitting Mexico again south of Veracruz on Wednesday, said Jamie Rhome, a meteorologist with the Hurricane Center. It was not expected to become a hurricane.

At 5 p.m. EDT, the center of the storm was located about 75 miles northwest of Belize City, and about 195 miles southwest of Cozumel, Mexico. It was moving to the west-northwest near seven mph.

The storm was expected to stay well away from the U.S. Gulf Coast.

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