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Atlantic heating up, with tropical storm formation expected this week

We could well see Tropical Storm Danielle form but it’s unclear whether it will threaten land

The National Hurricane Center is monitoring four disturbances for possible development in the Atlantic. (National Hurricane Center)

After a sleepy start to hurricane season, the Atlantic is awakening. A tropical storm is likely to develop this week from a disturbance east of the Lesser Antilles, and has a small chance to eventually threaten the Bahamas and even creep onto U.S. weather maps.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami estimates that the nascent tropical disturbance has an 80 percent chance of eventual maturation into a tropical depression or named storm. Such a disturbance earns a name when maximum sustained winds reach 39 mph, and becomes a hurricane once those winds hit 74 mph. “Danielle” is the next name on the Hurricane Center’s list.

Late August into September is usually the buildup to peak hurricane season in the Atlantic, but thus far the basin has been largely dormant.

If August does draw to a close Wednesday without a single named storm forming, it will be the first empty August since 1997. As it stands, the Atlantic is only running at about 8 percent of average in terms of ACE, or accumulated cyclone energy — a measure of the total atmospheric energy released by tropical storms and hurricanes.

But the hurricane season is about to try to play catch-up. In addition to the developing system east of the Lesser Antilles that is likely to become Danielle, there are three other Atlantic disturbances scattered about that bear watching.

The disturbance most likely to become “Danielle”

As of 8 a.m. Monday, a ragged cluster of showers and thunderstorms was about a third of the way between the Lesser Antilles and the west coast of Africa.

Admittedly, the system was not much to look at on satellite, since robust thunderstorm activity is not overly widespread. The wave was exhibiting a broad swirl of circulation, though, and that is integral to eventual organization. The extent to which thunderstorms blossom and fill in within the diffuse region of low pressure remains to be seen.

The American (GFS) model projects the system to eventually become a hurricane. Before it can do that, however, the strip of low pressure must consolidate into a more symmetric vortex, which will entail the formation of a low pressure center and a subsequent wraparound of winds.

Where the system may head

It’s probable we will have a named storm on our hands by Friday. By then it will be due north of the Leeward Islands by a couple hundred miles, but should spare the archipelago. The system, which could be flirting with hurricane strength at that point, will probably be diverted more toward the north into early next week, at which point a close shave with Bermuda is possible.

However, there are caveats to that forecast. Until a center of circulation actually forms, it is not totally clear what steering currents might ultimately capture the storm, which makes predicting exactly where it will go a challenge.

Some model runs over the weekend had suggested that the storm could threaten the Bahamas and/or the U.S. East Coast, and such scenarios cannot be ruled out. The latest model simulations generally suggest that the storm will remain out to sea but that still could change.

Elsewhere in the Atlantic

There are three other systems to watch, the westernmost of which is the tropical wave that the American model had been projecting would become a powerhouse storm in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s highly unlikely to occur, and the model has recently backed off earlier forecasts. Instead, a ragged mass of showers and thunderstorms nestled within a subtle zone of low pressure east of the Yucatán Peninsula will drift northwestward in the coming days. Then it’ll enter the Bay of Campeche.

There might be some development with it eventually, but it’ll probably run out the clock in its limited window to strengthen as it inches toward the coastline of either Tamaulipas, Mexico, or southern Texas around Labor Day.

Otherwise, there’s a lonesome swirl about 500 miles east of Bermuda, but that’s unlikely to do much. The only other system to keep an eye on is rolling off the coasts of Senegal and Gambia. It’ll churn north of the Cabo Verde Islands and may slowly develop as it heads out to sea.

The Atlantic hurricane season

The latest: The 2022 season started out slow, but has rapidly intensified this fall with conditions prime for storms. Fiona brought severe flooding to Puerto Rico before making landfall in Canada, and now we’re tracking Hurricane Ian as it heads for Florida. For the seventh year in a row, hurricane officials expect an above-average season of hurricane activity.

Tips for preparing: We rounded up seven safety tips to help you get ready for hurricanes. Here’s some other guidance about keeping your phone charged and useful in dangerous weather, and what to know about flood insurance.

Understanding climate change: It’s not just you — hurricanes and tropical storms have hit the U.S. more frequently in recent years. And last summer alone, nearly 1 in 3 Americans experienced a weather disaster. Read more about how climate change is fueling severe weather events.