Heavy rains, rip currents target Florida as early tropical storm brews in Gulf

Harvey Housing Rebuild
Floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey surround homes in Port Arthur, Texas, last August. 14 named storms; 7 hurricanes; 3 majors.

The consensus among those who dare is that the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season won’t be as active, ferocious, destructive, and expensive as the 2017 season, the year of Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

But it might well get off to a precocious start.

The National Hurricane Center sees an 90 percent likelihood that a tropical system will form in the Gulf of Mexico before the Memorial Day weekend.

If it gains peak winds of 39 mph and takes on the required meteorological characteristics it would become the first named storm of a season that doesn’t begin officially until June 1.

On Thursday, the aspiring Alberto was a soggy mass centered on the southeastern coast of Yucatan Peninsula with showers extending all the way to  Florida’s west coast.

It is impossible to say how it might affect the mainland United States, although it already has provoked the first tropical-storm jitters of the season in the Sunshine State.

In its morning discussion, the National Weather Service Office in Tampa Bay warned of “heavy rainfall and possible flooding impacts … regardless of development or track.”

It is unusual for storms to reach name criterion — winds of at least 39 mph — in May in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Gulf and Caribbean Sea. However, it has happened. Only a few have grown into hurricanes, storms with peak winds of at least 74 mph.

Early development, however, is not necessarily a harbinger of an active season.

The outlooks issued so far have that regular-unleaded look, but the numbers are never as important as the behaviors of individual storms.

The outlooks do provide decent generalized projections of storm numbers based on conditions in the tropics, and it makes sense that the more storms, the greater the chances for storm impacts.

The four major outlooks are calling for near-normal or slightly above-average activity. In the last 50 years, the hurricane center seasonal averages are 11 named storms; 6 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes — those with peak winds of at least 111 mph.

In the forecast update released Tuesday, the Weather Company called for 12 named storms, five hurricanes, and two majors. Meteorologist Todd Crawford said he decided to shave a storm or two off the earlier forecast because waters in the North Atlantic had cooled.

Joe Bastardi at WeatherBell Analytics also cited cool Atlantic water in his forecast, which sees 9-13 named storms, 5-7 hurricanes, and 1-3 majors.

The AccuWeather and Colorado State University forecasts are noticeably scarier. AccuWeather is going with 3 to 5 major hurricanes, and Colorado State, 3.

However, both those were issued in early April, and we wouldn’t be surprised if the updates splash a little cold water on the estimates for the Big Ones.