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Tropical Storm Alex stood us up; so if you're new to Florida here's a little bit about hurricanes

The probable track of Hurricane Marco, according to the National Hurricane Center.
National Hurricane Center
/
National Hurricane Center
2020's Hurricane Marco, above, went in a completely different direction than where I was at that time, too, just like how not-quite-yet Tropical Storm Alex went by Fort Myers to wallop Miami. 2008's iteration of Tropical Storm Marco could have been right over top of me and I wouldn't have known, because it was the smallest Atlantic system ever with strong winds extending a mere dozen miles on either side of the eye.

The area of disturbed tropical weather that would become Tropical Storm Alex, which was approaching Southwest Florida at a pretty good clip, was supposed to come ashore around Fort Myers and dump more than a foot of rain.

Once again, a tropical system did not do what forecasters told it to.

The worst of Alex’s deluge somehow scooted around the Fort Myers region – there was a decent amount of rain and some flooding -- and walloped Miami, where downtown streets flooded with several feet of water in places

This year was the first time in seven that a named tropical system did not form prior to the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season on June 1.

It was close. The previous week the storm was a Category 2 hurricane in the Pacific basin named Agatha. It moved east, not west – a bit of an oddity for a West Coast system – regrew strength in the Gulf of Mexico, and moved over South Florida on June 5.

That is when we were led to believe the tropical depression with no name would graduate into Alex, either before hitting Southwest Florida, or as the storm moved over the peninsula.

Didn't happen.

Tropical Storm Alex became Alex on June 6 over the Atlantic Ocean, 165 miles east-northeast off the coast of Ft. Pierce.

Alex, we thought we would get to know you but that is not how it turned out. That's fine with us.

Especially because meteorologists expect an “above normal” Atlantic hurricane season in 2022, which runs through Nov. 30.

The most familiar agencies that predict a hurricane season’s potential – the National Hurricane Center, AccuWeather, the Colorado State University Tropical Weather & Climate Research and others, have roughly said – differences remain between them all – there will be 14 to 21 named storms, with perhaps 10 expected to reach hurricane strength – up to half of those major hurricanes with Category 3 sustained winds of 111 mph or greater.

Usually much greater. You have to take any tropical system seriously, but especially major hurricanes.

Since Alex’s glancing blow this week didn’t hurt much – in tropical storm terms - and there are many weeks before the height of hurricane season in mid-September, perhaps there is a window of opportunity to learn some interesting facts about hurricanes.

Am I the only one who thinks that hurricanes, as long as they are not above me (or anyone else), are sort of a cool creation of nature?

For example, did you know?...

The equator and a hurricane don’t mix

The equator is hurricane-unfriendly. If you hear about a tropical wave coming off Africa and it is down by the equator, you don’t have to worry about it developing into something stronger. That’s because the Coriolis Effect, which is a world-wide force created by the spinning of the planet, wants to rotate storms in the southern hemisphere counter-clockwise, and hurricanes in the north clockwise. In the zone between the two, at or near the equator, the effect does not have enough "ummph" to get the storms spinning, which is a key to their growth. It's a bit more complicated than that, but for today "ummph" does the trick.

Hurricanes like being in hot water

Relative proximity to the equator, however, is key for healthier tropical cyclones, which are like giant engines that use warm, moist air as fuel. That is why they form only over warm ocean waters, close-but-not-too-close-to the equator. The warm, moist air over the ocean rises higher, away from the surface, which can create a huge area of lower pressure below. As it rises, the warm air in a wanna-be hurricane rotates and the water flowing upward is released from the air creating the clouds of the storm. The low pressure below gets lower, and lower, and a tropical cyclone is born.

Being a hurricane is a group activity

In essence, a hurricane is a whole bunch of individual thunderstorms that start rotating together. As they rotate and gather storms, they pull in tight as a group, creating a tropical cyclone. The team dynamic can create tornadoes in those thunderstorms that, if all alone, might not have enough "ummph."

In the midst of chaos there is quiet

As a hurricane strengthens and rotates faster and faster, an area of near-complete calmness and clearness forms. Called the eye of the storm, it can be a mile wide or many dozens. It is so calm and clear in the eye, with very low air pressure, that if the storm froze in place it would be a beautiful day. You’d probably get a sunburn. But hurricanes don’t stop for sunbathers. If a hurricane is raging atop you, and it suddenly gets really nice out, that means the other side of the eyewall is coming, faster than you can run and stronger than your ability to stand. So don’t leave safe cover if a howling hurricane just stops and the sun comes out. It’s nowhere near over.

Why do hurricanes have to die

Tropical cyclones usually weaken when they hit land because they are no longer being "fed" by that energy from the warm, moist, ocean waters. However, sometimes they hold together for an impressive amount of time, moving far inland, dumping many inches of water, and causing lots of wind damage before they are spent. Hurricane Charley, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to strike the United States, was a Category 4 storm when it made landfall in 2004 in Southwest Florida. At its peak intensity of 150 mph, Charley struck the northern tip of Captiva Island before crossing over Bokeelia on Pine Island, and continued inland as a far as Orlando. Along its path, Charley caused 10 deaths and $16.9 billion in damage to insured residential property, at the time making it the second costliest hurricane.

Nobody puts that hurricane in a corner

As has already be proven, tropical systems do not like to be told what they are going to do. Sorta like the "Baby" character in the famed movie Dirty Dancing.

Does a hurricane ever move in the track that meteorologists forecast? Yes. Do they ever only grow about as strong as is expected? Yes.

But other times, just like "Baby" in the '80s movie, they have to rebel. They must misbehave. Many hurricanes told to weaken by meteorologists instead grow stronger. Hurricanes go "this way" when they are forecast to go "that way." They do loop-de-loops, sometimes more than once. Some have made landfall several times. They've gotten so big they filled the entire Gulf of Mexico, or remained so small that the worst part around the eye is only few dozen miles across. In 2008, Tropical Storm Marco almost made it to hurricane strength in the Gulf of Mexico, despite the fact that its high winds extended a mere 12 miles from the eye of the storm.

Wouldn't it be funny if the name for the second tropical storm this season was "Baby?" Nobody would be putting that hurricane in a corner.

Sources: The National Hurricane Center, the Chicago Tribune, the National Ocean Service, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Wikipedia, AccuWeather, the Colorado State University Tropical Weather & Climate Research, mentalfloss.com

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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