Meteorologists typically use June 1st as the start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season but tropical cyclones have developed in the Atlantic prior to June 1st, most often in May. It was one year ago this week that the first hurricane of the 2016 hurricane season developed. While the development of a tropical cyclone in the North Atlantic during the month of January is not unprecedented, it is very rare. Since records began in 1851, we have only seen five other examples of a tropical cyclone in the basin during January. The last time a tropical cyclone existed in January was Tropical Storm Zeta from the hyperactive 2005 hurricane season. Zeta formed on December 30th, 2005 and continued through the first week of 2006. The last time a tropical cyclone developed in January was in 1951.

Hurricane Alex, the first named storm and first hurricane of the 2016 hurricane season, was a very unusual January hurricane that developed in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. It made landfall in the Azores as a strong tropical storm. The precursor system to Alex was an area of low pressure that developed along a stationary front near the Bahamas. The non-tropical system moved east across the ocean over the next week. On January 12th, the system lost its frontal features and became designed as a subtropical cyclone, having characteristics associated with both tropical (hurricanes) and non-tropical (winter storms) cyclones. Despite moving over waters below the typical threshold for tropical cyclone development, Alex developed an eye and became a hurricane. As the hurricane approached the Azores Islands, the increasingly hostile environment took its toll on Alex and it weakened to a tropical storm shortly before making landfall. The Azores were visited by a second tropical storm, Gaston, later in the year. The 2016 season was the most active since 2012 and deadliest since 2005 producing 16 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major (Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Scale) hurricanes.

The active 2016 season was predicted in advance by several agencies as early as the previous December. These organizations use different atmospheric and oceanic variables to determine if a hurricane season will see above, near, or below normal activity. Most agencies predicted that 2016 would see above normal activity due to the expected development of La Nina in the Pacific and warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic’s Main Development Region or MDR. So far two agencies have made predictions for the 2017 season, a London based group called Tropical Storm Risk (TSR) and an American team at Colorado State University led by Dr. Phil Klotzbach.

The first forecast for the year was issued by TSR on December 13, 2016. They anticipated that the 2017 season would be a near-average season, with a prediction of 14 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes. The main reason behind their forecast is that wind shear in the MDR is expected to be near normal, above normal wind shear inhibits the development of thunderstorms in a developing tropical cyclone leading to fewer tropical storms and hurricanes. Colorado State issued a qualitative forecast on December 14, 2016 outlining five possible scenarios for the season based on several factors including whether or not El Nino develops. Their most likely scenario, which they give a 40% chance of happening, calls for 12-15 named storms, 6-8 hurricanes, and 2-3 major hurricanes. Both groups will refine their forecasts as the year goes on with the next update in April. Two hurricanes (Hermine and Matthew) made landfall in the United States last year but the major hurricane drought continues. The last major hurricane to make landfall in the United States was Wilma in 2005 and it only takes one storm to change that. Make sure to check back for updates as we get closer to hurricane season.

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