Tampa Bay Times

Tropical weather bulletins to start early this year

- BY JAMAL THALJI Times Staff Writer Contact Jamal Thalji at jthalji@tampabay.com. Follow @jthalji

The National Hurricane Center said Tuesday that it will issue tropical weather bulletins earlier this year, beginning May 15.

That is 17 days before the official June 1 start of the 2021 hurricane season. It’s the same date that government scientists are considerin­g as the new start of the Atlantic hurricane season.

The bulletins are issued throughout storm season and help keep the public, government officials and meteorolog­ists informed about everything from a potential tropical system developing to a named storm strengthen­ing into a bigger storm to which coastal regions should worry about a storm’s path.

“The change would reflect an increasing tendency for early-season storms to form ahead of the internatio­nally agreed-upon June 1 convention­al start date in an effort to respond to observed trends,” wrote Michael Brennan, the branch chief of the center’s hurricane specialist unit, in a memo issued Tuesday.

The change also reflects the reality that storm season hasn’t started in June in years. In the past six hurricane seasons, named storms formed in May. That date, May 15, is also when the Central Pacific Hurricane Center starts issuing bulletins for storms that form in the Pacific Ocean.

Last year, two named storms developed early: Tropical Storm Arthur formed May 16 off Florida’s east coast and Tropical Storm Bertha strengthen­ed on May 27 off the South Carolina shore. Going back to 2000, 11 named storms have formed early in the Atlantic.

The first named storm of this season will be Ana, a name with a history of making an early entrance. In 2003, Ana formed April 21 and became the first named Atlantic storm to form a month early. Another Ana formed May 9, 2015, and became the earliest tropical cyclone to make landfall in the U.S. when it hit South Carolina.

The public won’t notice much of a change with the earlier bulletins because they won’t have much tropical activity to discuss, said Phil Klotzbach, Colorado State University research scientists and hurricane forecaster. The heart of the Atlantic hurricane season will remain from August through October, he said.

The bulletin change comes after the 2020 hurricane season ended as the most active Atlantic storm season on record, generating 30 named storms, 13 hurricanes and six major hurricanes — storms that exceed Category 3 strength with wind speeds of 111 mph or greater.

The forecasts for the 2021 hurricane season have yet to be issued. But while the odds don’t favor another record season, this could still be an above-average season in terms of named storms and hurricanes that will form, Klotzbach said.

One factor raising concerns about the Atlantic season is that El Niño, the Pacific weather phenomenon that affects global weather, is unlikely to form this year. El Niño can generate strong winds that can tear apart and weaken Atlantic storms. Its absence increases the chances of tropical systems forming and getting stronger.

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