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Tropical Storm Epsilon forms, as Atlantic nears record for busiest hurricane season

Epsilon, which threatens Bermuda, puts 2020 one storm away from tying 2005 record.

Tropical Storm Epsilon on Monday morning. (RAMMB/CIRA)

Tropical Storm Epsilon formed Monday in the open Atlantic Ocean, a little more than 735 miles southeast of Bermuda. With maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, it is the 26th named storm of the extraordinarily busy 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, and puts us one tropical storm away from tying 2005′s record.

The storm is forecast to intensify, attaining hurricane status before making a run toward Bermuda later in the week. The only other Epsilon to form, in 2005, didn’t do so until Nov. 29 that year, putting us more than five weeks ahead of that record pace.

Seven infamous October hurricanes that struck the U.S. and Central America

The current track forecast favors a glancing blow to Bermuda rather than a direct hit, but that could change. Bermuda has already had a number of tropical scares this year, including from Paulette, a Category 1 hurricane that made landfall with 90-mph maximum sustained winds on Sept. 14.

Tracking Epsilon

While Epsilon was a minimal tropical storm at midday Monday, gradual strengthening is likely over the next several days, and Epsilon is likely to become a hurricane by Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said. It is forecast to pass near or just to the east of Bermuda on Friday and Saturday.

A close pass would mean probable tropical storm conditions for the British territory of nearly 65,000, with winds exceeding 40 mph and heavy rains. A closer shave could bring the ring of Epsilon’s stronger winds closer, with the potential for hurricane-force winds of 74 mph and above.

After departing from near Bermuda and pulling north, Epsilon may never really weaken as a tropical system. Instead, Epsilon will begin to transition into a different type of storm, acquiring the characteristics of a nor’easter-like mid-latitude low-pressure system. In fact, energy from the jet stream may even briefly intensify the storm as its wind field expands in size.

Looking ahead, hurricane season may take a breather, but it won’t be fully over even after Epsilon. While a less-favorable atmosphere and cooling waters increasingly hinder tropical storms as autumn progresses, there are other factors that could encourage storm development — like the arrival of broad-scale rising motion that will overspread the western Atlantic in the coming weeks.

That will make it easier for any systems that do form to develop and intensify.

Historical context

Epsilon is the fifth letter in the Greek alphabet. Its use comes after that of Alpha, a subtropical storm that hit Portugal; Beta, which drenched Texas; Gamma, which dumped heavy rains over the Yucatán Peninsula before falling apart over the Bay of Campeche; and Delta, which also struck both the Yucatán region of Mexico and southwest Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane.

Only one other year has necessitated dipping into the Greek alphabet. That was 2005, the same season that featured Hurricanes Rita, Wilma and Katrina. That year made it six names into the Greek list, concluding with Zeta.

Since the hurricane season doesn’t officially wrap until Nov. 30, there is plenty of room for more this year. So get ready for Eta, and Theta, and possibly even Iota.

Recently, meteorologists have been monitoring a zone of disturbed weather that could take shape in the western Caribbean. Weather models, originally bullish on its eventual development and maturation, have since peddled back in their simulations of the instigating feature. The National Hurricane Center estimates a 20 percent chance of development.

In the unlikely event a system forms, it would likely track northeast, potentially passing over Cuba and portions of the Bahamas and perhaps eventually close to the U.S.