Hurricane Season Jumps the Gun

Friday saw the official start of the Atlantic and Caribbean hurricane season, which runs from June 1 until the last day of November—despite tropical storms Alberto & Beryl having jumped the gun. (Hurricane Bud was from the Eastern Pacific where hurricane season starts two weeks earlier on May 15).

Just to clarify, for those not completely up to scratch with their meteorological terminology, hurricanes and tropical storms are both, to use the scientific term, tropical cyclones—storm systems that build energy as they suck up warm, moist air from the surface of the ocean, forcing the warm air upwards and creating an area of lower air pressure below.

2012 Tropical Storm Names for the Atlantic Region

  • Alberto
  • Beryl
  • Chris
  • Debby
  • Ernesto
  • Florence
  • Gordon
  • Helene
  • Issac
  • Joyce
  • Kirk
  • Leslie
  • Michael
  • Nadine
  • Oscar
  • Patty
  • Rafael
  • Sandy
  • Tony
  • Valerie
  • William

Only tropical cyclones that form over the Atlantic Ocean or Eastern and Central Pacific Oceans are called “hurricanes.”

A Rose by Any Other Name Does as Much Damage

And talking of being called something—in case you’re interested—tropical cyclones are named by the international committee of the World Meteorological Organization, according to the region the storm originates in. Each region has its own tropical cyclone regional body, of which there are five, each of which submits a list of names for storms that develop in their region.

Before 1949, storms were numbered rather than named, and between 1949 and 1953 the naming was arbitrary. I must admit, I always quite liked the idea of meteorologists using hurricane naming to get back at their errant girl/boyfriends, but since Alice, the very first named storm, hurricanes have been named in this rather more organised fashion, with men’s names being added to the mix in 1979.

However! I digress. Back to hurricane season 2012.

Here’s the Science Bit

Despite being only the second time since 1908 that two tropical cyclones have hit before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, Dr. Jessica Turner, Willis Re Analytics, isn’t predicting doom.

“Fortunately,” she says, “since the formation mechanisms of these storms tend to be subtropical with the organization of heavy thunderstorms along a frontal zone, this is not necessarily foreshadowing an active season to come. The necessary special conditions are random, unpredictable and unrelated to the Atlantic ocean warmth that drives most hurricane activity.”

“In fact, most groups that make pre-season forecasts are calling for an average to below-average season. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Hurricane Center is predicting 4-8 hurricanes in 2012, of which 2-3 will become major hurricanes. Sea-surface temperatures in the main development region, an area in the central tropical Atlantic where many of the strongest hurricanes form, are slightly cooler than average and El Niño is expected to be in a neutral phase this summer. Both the cooler Atlantic and fading away of last season’s La Niña will act to decrease hurricane activity. However, as the historical experience of Hurricane Andrew (1992) tells us, it only takes one major landfall in an otherwise quiet season to cause extremely large industry losses.”

On that note, I shall leave you here—the homepage of the National Hurricane Center—to take some tips for hurricane preparedness, and I shall hope that, despite the English press making claims to the contrary, tropical storm Beryl won’t rain on Her Majesty’s parade in London this weekend. Just like a girl to steal the lime light. (Written June 1.)


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