Expected average tropical cyclone activity in the north Atlantic by month. (NOAA)

It’s been a slow hurricane season so far this year, but things might be heating up in the tropics, with one active hurricane and three areas to watch over the coming days.

So far, 2014 has seen only three named storms, including Hurricane Cristobal, and another tropical depression that really isn’t worth mentioning. While the rest of the Northern Hemisphere is running 121 percent above average in accumulated cyclone energy, the Atlantic has only seen 70 percent of its average activity so far this year.

But August and September are typically the months when Atlantic hurricane activity tends to go into overdrive, as the number of tropical waves coming off the coast of Africa increases. Sea surface temperature also reaches its peak in September, and wind shear, which is detrimental to hurricanes, is relatively low. Technically, September 10 is the average peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic.


Visible/infrared satellite imagery of Hurricane Cristobal on Tuesday morning. Hurricane Cristobal is tracking north through the Atlantic with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. Cristobal is not expected to make landfall in the U.S. (NOAA)

Cristobal, which was upgraded to a hurricane on Monday evening, is doing its part to make up this year’s deficit in tropical activity. Hurricane Cristobal has picked up speed since Monday and is moving north through the Atlantic at 12 mph. The hurricane was 545 miles southwest of Bermuda on Tuesday morning with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. Hurricane Cristobal is expected to increase slightly in intensity over the next couple of days before it becomes extra-tropical and is swept northeast.

While the hurricane will not make landfall in the U.S., impacts can still be seen along the East Coast beaches and coastal waters. Rip current statements have been issued for beaches from southern Virginia south to Florida, and waves could reach 10 feet.


Visible satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday morning. (NOAA)

In the northern Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center is monitoring an area of thunderstorms that started to build on Sunday. Environmental conditions are somewhat favorable over the Gulf — though wind shear is moderate, sea surface temperature running two to four degrees above average.

This area of storms could have enough time over warm water to develop into a tropical cyclone in the coming days. On Tuesday morning, the National Hurricane Center was giving the area a 10 percent chance of tropical cyclone formation in the next five days.

Experimental five day outlook graphic, showing areas to watch in the tropical Atlantic. (National Hurricane Center)
Experimental five day outlook graphic, showing areas to watch in the tropical Atlantic. (National Hurricane Center)

In the central tropical Atlantic, the National Hurricane Center is giving an easterly wave that’s heading toward the Lesser Antilles a 20 percent chance of tropical cyclone development over the next five days. This area has limited thunderstorm activity and is moving through a very dry, unfavorable environment, which is decreasing its chances of strengthening. The area is expected to track northwest over the next few days and should be around Puerto Rico late this weekend.

Finally, in the far eastern Atlantic, a tropical wave is expected to leave the west coast of Africa later this week. Of the three areas the National Weather Service is watching, this future wave has been given the best chances — a 30 percent probability that it will develop into a tropical cyclone soon after it reaches the warm waters of the Atlantic.