'Alberto' forms in Gulf; 'indirect' impacts possible in Philadelphia area

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Storms clouds move in over the skyline of downtown Orlando associated with Irma in September. Alberto will affect Florida this weekend.

The Atlantic Basin hurricane season doesn’t begin officially until June 1, but at 11 a.m. Friday the National Hurricane Center decided that a soggy, spiraling mass in the Gulf of Mexico merited a name, and the center issued its first tropical-storm advisories of 2018.

The freshly minted Alberto was centered just off the Yucatan coast with winds of 40 mph and due to approach the north Gulf coast late Monday, when winds could hit 65 mph, and it could reach the hurricane criterion of 74 mph.

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Alberto’s future, according to meteorologists.

And Alberto could have an indirect impact on the Philly region.

As fronts approach the region they might tap into that copious Gulf moisture affiliated with Alberto, meteorologists said.

The weekend forecasts for the Philadelphia area carry at least a chance of showers each day. But they also suggest a high likelihood of at least some rain-free picnics. Most of Saturday and Monday are looking decent, said Rob Miller, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.

“Saturday afternoon we’ll have some of those garden-variety popup thunderstorms,” said Miller. “I wouldn’t be telling people to cancel picnic activities.” It will feel quite July-like, however, with temperatures in the upper-80s and the air swollen with water vapor.

Monday might start out cloudy, he said, with chance of showers later in the day. It will be cooler, with highs not getting out of the 70s, but dry for the most part.

The most-problematical day will be Sunday, which offers the best chance of showers. The government’s Storm Prediction Center has the region in the “marginal risk” zone for severe storms. 

But the Memorial Day weekend around here won’t be anything like Florida’s. The National Weather Service is warning of heavy rains and rip currents, and has advised the entire Gulf Coast to stay alert as Alberto migrates toward the Florida Panhandle.

Technically, Alberto is not yet a tropical storm, even though it has met the wind requirement — 39 mph. The hurricane center is calling it “subtropical,” but that’s a technical distinction.

Floridians aren’t going to be able to tell the difference.

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.