Thursday, May 10, 2007

Andrea Arrives Early

The Atlantic hurricane season is supposed to start in June but no one told Andrea. Wednesday, Andrea, a small, weak subtropical storm east of Jacksonville, became the first named storm of the 2007 hurricane season.

And while tropical storms and hurricanes are rare outside of the official June 1 through November 30 hurricane season, a few storms have developed in other months.

The most recent example was Tropical Depression Olga, a system that threatened the Bahamas on December 4, 2000. The storm dissipated before reaching the islands.

In February 1952, a tropical storm made landfall across southern Florida. Nicknamed the Groundhog Day storm because it formed on February first, it moved over Key West, Miami and Boca Raton.

The storm produced wind gusts of 68 mph and rainfall amounts of 2 to 4 inches across South Florida. The unseasonable combination of wind and rain damaged vegetable crops in the farming areas of Miami-Dade County.

Another out of season storm hit Florida in December of 1925. On November 29, a tropical storm formed in the western Caribbean Sea. In less than 24 hours, it had intensified into a hurricane, moved into the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall near Tampa Bay. Yet, this persistent storm wasn’t done yet.

It crossed Florida, weakened to a tropical storm while spreading heavy rain and gusty winds across the central part of the state. On December 1, the storm became a hurricane again off the coastline of St. Augustine, eventually making landfall for a second time along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The storm produced widespread damage across Florida and North Carolina and is responsible for more than 50 deaths, mostly on ships at sea.

Most out of season storms have formed in May. Records from the National Hurricane Center dating back to 1886 indicate that 18 tropical storms and hurricanes have formed in May. Three of those storms ended up in Florida.

On May 31, 1934 a weak tropical storm swept along the east coast of Florida. Subtropical storm Alpha crossed northern Florida and southern Georgia on May 23, 1972. The storm reached tropical storm strength over the Atlantic Ocean a few days later. And in May of 1975, another weak tropical storm swept across northern Florida.

Out of season hurricanes are relatively rare but do occur from time to time. One of the most unusual was Hurricane Able, a storm that made a complete loop north of the Bahamas in May of 1951. Able was a strong hurricane reaching category three intensity off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Still, around 97 percent of all tropical systems are well behaved, forming during the official June 1 through November 30 hurricane season.

By the way, officials at the National Hurricane Center say there is no correlation between an early start to the season and active or inactive season. An out of season tropical storm like Andrea is an oddity and has no impact on the number of storms that will form this year.

Posted at 11:58 AM