Hanna could become the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic season.
Meanwhile, more than 2,000 miles to the east, Tropical Storm Gonzalo is barreling westward as well, set to affect Barbados and the Windward Islands over the weekend.
As if meteorologists didn’t have enough tropical weather to track, computer model projections show that a third tropical wave emerging off the west coast of Africa could develop into an intense hurricane next week.
Hanna’s formation obliterates the previous record for the earliest named “H” storm in the Atlantic, an indication of how active this Atlantic hurricane season has been.
Gonzalo claimed a record for the earliest “G” storm early Wednesday, beating out Tropical Storm Gert, which swirled ashore in Mexico after forming on the Bay of Campeche on July 24, 2005.
This hurricane season has also featured the earliest “C,” “E” and “F” storms on record — Cristobal, Edouard and Fay, respectively.
Hanna to make landfall in South Texas on Saturday
As of Friday afternoon, Hanna’s maximum sustained winds, which were confined to a small region near the system’s center, were at 50 mph, despite the storm’s improving structure on satellite imagery. The storm was 195 miles east of Corpus Christi, Tex., drifting west across the Gulf of Mexico at 10 mph. The storm has been intensifying throughout the day, and is forecast to be a Category 1 hurricane at landfall on Saturday afternoon in south Texas.
The Hurricane Center issued key messages for the storm, including warning of the danger of life-threatening storm surge flooding along the Texas coast from Baffin Bay to Sargent, where a storm surge warning is in effect.
“Hurricane conditions are expected along the Texas coast from Baffin Bay to Mesquite Bay, where a Hurricane Warning is in effect. Tropical storm conditions are expected to first reach the coast within the warning area Saturday morning,” NHC stated.
Although the strongest winds may be confined to a narrow area along the coast, Hanna’s heavy downpours and flood potential will be widespread across South Texas. A broad 5 to 10 inches of rain appears likely, with localized totals of 15 inches not out of the question. Downpours may feature rainfall rates at times eclipsing 2 to 4 inches per hour. “This rain may result in life-threatening flash flooding,” the Hurricane Center warned.
Lower rainfall amounts are forecast along the coast of Southeast Texas, between Houston-Galveston and southwest Louisiana, but it’s possible that amounts could be higher than projected, depending on the location of the storm’s bands of showers and thunderstorms as it comes ashore.
There will also be a tornado threat along the coast of Southeast and South Texas.
Initial bands of precipitation will arrive across the Southeast Texas coast late Friday, with the heavier shower and thunderstorm activity moving ashore overnight and into Saturday morning in South Texas. Heavy rain will begin to taper off as the weekend draws to a close, and the remnants of the storm move southwestward, across northern Mexico.
Gonzalo fights against hostile environment
Meanwhile, tropical storm warnings are in effect for Barbados, along with St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tobago, and Grenada. These warnings have been hoisted ahead of Gonzalo, a 40 mph tropical storm moving west-northwest at 15 mph as of Friday morning.
Gonzalo appeared to be struggling to remain organized Friday as it fended off dry air attempting to choke it from the north. The sputtering cyclone is tiny as far as tropical storms go, its diminutive size making it more susceptible to sudden fluctuations in intensity.
“Gonzalo is a small tropical cyclone,” noted the National Hurricane Center. “Tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 25 miles from the center.”
As such, Gonzalo’s impacts will be realized over a small area. Those that do get into Gonzalo’s heavy rains could see 2 to 5 inches, with a couple of localized spots picking up 8 inches.
Gonzalo will affect the Windward Islands over the weekend, emerging into the Caribbean with an uncertain future early next week. Some computer models show the storm dissipating completely in the face of harsh atmospheric conditions in that area, while others show it surviving.
A third system in the pipeline
Another tropical system is brewing, the tropical wave just passing offshore of Senegal on Thursday. While it has a long way to go in terms of development and travel distance, there are signs that it could develop into a significant storm.
This weather system will be shuttled westward by trade winds during the upcoming week, and it may begin to develop next week as it approaches the Lesser Antilles.
It bears watching, as multiple computer models show it strengthening significantly and potentially threatening land masses.
A busy start that will only get more active
Before the first storm formed, atmospheric scientists warned that this season would be more active than usual, with multiple factors, from ocean temperatures to a developing La Niña, as key indicators. Especially concerning to some is the presence of above-average sea surface temperatures in the hurricane breeding grounds of the tropical Atlantic.
For example, in the Gulf of Mexico, sea surface temperatures are a full degree above average for this time of year.
Warm waters don’t automatically trigger more storms, but they can help those that do form to become significantly wetter and more intense.
Moreover, warmer waters — which can be traced in part to human-caused climate change — also make rapid intensification more common.
Hurricane season climatologically peaks on Sept. 15, and it lasts through Nov. 30. It’s going to be a long road ahead.