Tropical Storm Arlene first to form in Gulf this Hurricane Season

Posted by on Jun 29, 2011 | 0 comments

The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season formed Tuesday in the southern Gulf of Mexico, in Bay of Campeche, the National Hurricane Center said.  Tropical Storm Arlene was not expected to be a major threat to the U.S. coast.  The government of Mexico on Tuesday issued tropical storm warnings for the northeastern coast from Barra De Nautla north to Bahia Algodones. No watches or warnings for the United States were in effect.

The center said Arlene would make landfall in Mexico early Thursday morning and was not forecast to strengthen into a hurricane.  At 8 p.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said Arlene was about 280 miles east-southeast of Tampico, Mexico with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph and a central pressure of 1003 millibars.

The main threat to Mexico is heavy rains that could cause flash floods and mudslides. Forecasters say extreme south Texas also could get some rain from the system.  Mexico is a top oil exporter to the United States and almost all of its crude oil exports are shipped to refineries on the Gulf Coast of the United States from the three Gulf of Mexico ports, Dos Bocas, Cayo Arcas and Coatzacoalcos.

Outer bands of rain could cause brief closures of those ports, but the center’s model showed Arlene hitting further north Thursday, possibly grazing one coastal oil well near the city of Tampico but avoiding offshore platforms.

Above average season?
Last month, U.S. forecasters said residents along the Gulf and East coasts should expect an above average Atlantic hurricane season. Between 12 to 18 named storms are likely during the season that typically runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, according to the 2011 outlook by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Of those six to 10 are likely to be hurricanes, and three to six of those could become major hurricanes, ranging from Category 3-5.  Last year’s hurricane season was one of the busiest on record with 19 named storms, including 12 hurricanes.

But no major hurricane, i.e, Category 3 or higher, has made a U.S. landfall since Category 3 Hurricane Wilma struck Florida in 2005. Hurricane Ike caused extensive damage in September 2008 when it roared ashore in Galveston, Texas, but it hit as a strong Category 2 storm with top winds around 109 mph. Ike caused $10 billion in damage in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, making it the third-costliest storm after Hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Andrew in 1992, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The lack of a major hurricane making U.S. landfall in recent years led officials to voice fear that locals won’t take this season seriously. 

“The United States was fortunate last year,” NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco said in a statement. “Winds steered most of the season’s tropical storms and all hurricanes away from our coastlines. However we can’t count on luck to get us through this season. We need to be prepared, especially with this above-normal outlook.”

Three factors
The factors indicating an above average season were three, NOAA said:

  • Sea surface temperatures where storms often develop and move across the Atlantic are up to two degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average.
  • La Nina, while expected to dissipate by June, is likely to still have an impact by reducing wind shear, which helps hurricanes form.
  • Since 1995, ocean and atmospheric conditions have been conducive to more active Atlantic hurricane seasons.

An average season, as defined by NOAA, has 11 named storms and six hurricanes, of which 2 are major.

On April 6, Colorado State University researchers issued their own forecast, predicting an above average season of 16 named storms.

That’s one storm less than what the team forecast last December.

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