Sept. 17 (UPI) — After churning out Tropical Storm Wilfred and Subtropical Storm Alpha, the hyperactive Atlantic continues to generate more named storms with the formation of Tropical Storm Beta.
Forming Friday afternoon, Beta had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, and forecasters warn there is potential for the system to intensify into a hurricane while over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Atlantic once again became hyperactive on Friday with four tropical cyclones churning at once. Just on Monday, there were five tropical cyclones spinning simultaneously for the first time since Sept. 10-12, 1971. That number dropped to four Tuesday after Rene dissipated, leaving Paulette, Sally, Teddy and Vicky for a time. As of 4 p.m. CDT Friday, Major Hurricane Teddy, Tropical Storm Wilfred, Subtropical Storm Alpha and now Tropical Storm Beta were all on the prowl.
This new storm has claimed the second letter in the Greek alphabet.
Once the last name on the season’s designated list is exhausted, Greek letters are used to identify tropical storms.
A strong disturbance that was spinning over the central Atlantic claimed the last name on the season’s designated list, Wilfred, when it strengthened into a tropical storm on Friday at 11 a.m. EDT, according to the National Hurricane Center. It became the earliest-21st named storm on record in the Atlantic basin, beating out Vince, which formed on Oct. 8, 2005, according to Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University.
A few hours later, Subtropical Storm Alpha formed right along the coast of Portugal during Friday afternoon. That storm will bring heavy rain, gusty winds and pounding surf along the coast of Portugal and northern Spain through Friday night.
Alpha set a new record for the earliest 22nd-named storm to develop in the basin, forming nearly one month earlier than the previous record holder for that title, the notorious Wilma from 2005. Wilma did not become a named storm until Oct. 17 that year, but went on to strengthen into the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic at Category 5 strength, packing winds of 185 mph and a central barometric pressure of 26.05 inches of Mercury (882 millibars).
Beta wrote a new page in the record books for the 23rd-named tropical storm in the Atlantic, replacing Alpha from 2005, which formed on Oct. 22 and was the first-ever storm to be named a Greek letter.
A disturbance over the Gulf of Mexico that meteorologists had been monitoring for over a week developed into Tropical Depression 22 on Thursday, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph. By Friday at 4 p.m. CDT, the system strengthened into Tropical Storm Beta and was located about 335 miles east-northeast of Tampico, Mexico, and 280 miles east-southeast of the mouth of the Rio Grande as it crawled northward at just 9 mph.
Weak steering breezes could result in the budding tropical system over the Gulf of Mexico to remain nearly stationary or meander over the open water over the next few days.
A general northward drift is likely to be followed by a westward drift later this weekend and into early next week. The storm could wander toward the Texas coast before turning toward Louisiana.
A slow-moving storm such as this can disrupt oil and gas production in the western Gulf of Mexico for several days, AccuWeather meteorologists warned.
“We are getting to the time of the year where it is difficult, due to prevailing steering winds, for tropical systems to move onshore in Texas,” according to AccuWeather’s top hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski.
“However, we are not fully into that part of the season just yet, and we will have to monitor the behavior of those steering winds and how much an area of high pressure builds across the central and eastern U.S., which could partially block the northward path and perhaps steer the system toward the Texas coast,” Kottlowski cautioned.
The slow movement of the system has raised alarms among AccuWeather forecasters. In 2017, Harvey unloaded up to 61 inches of rain as it spent days over eastern Texas. Even though this system may never get as strong as Harvey did, it will have the resources to produce torrential rainfall. Most of that rain may fall harmlessly over the Gulf of Mexico, unless the system takes a westward drift toward Texas or northeastern Mexico, or perhaps wanders close to the upper Gulf coast.
The slow movement of the system is likely to continue, no matter which direction it wanders. If the system wanders to right along the coast, then rainfall could be measured in feet in stead of inches.
“How strong the system gets may hold the key as a stronger tropical storm tends to poke higher up into the atmosphere and might get steered westward toward Texas, while a weaker system may hover in the lowest part of the atmosphere, where it avoids the stronger winds aloft and then hovers over the Gulf for days,” Kottlowski said.
Some moisture could be sheared off to the northeast of the budding storm, which could produce heavy rainfall in the Southeast states.
“Any torrential rain could add to the flooding problems from Sally, which are still ramping up as runoff from urban and small streams works into the larger river systems in the Southeast,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Courtney Travis said.
“Texas could take a reasonable amount of rain, while areas farther to the east in the South would have trouble,” she added.
Another possibility is that the storm may make several landfalls but never venture far inland, and rather it would spend most of its lifespan over the western Gulf of Mexico and diminish after initially ramping up. In this scenario, the center could bump or brush multiple points of land along a meandering path.
“Gusty winds and rain could reach the south coast of Texas as early as Sunday,” Kottlowski said.
If the system makes landfall as a named storm in the United States, it would be the ninth system to do so this season.
Should the center wander onshore, it could continue to move very slowly or perhaps stall a second time, potentially leading to flooding rainfall on a broad scale.
As the system develops and begins to move northward initially, exact details on the system’s track will become more clear in the coming days, even if it will just prowl around the Gulf for a time.
Regardless of the meandering nature of the storm, there will be substantial coastal impacts. Heavy rain and flooding downpours could frequent coastal areas of the western and central Gulf Coast.
The storm is likely to get large enough and strong enough to create rough seas, pounding surf and dangerous rip currents over the Gulf of Mexico, especially over the central and western Gulf.
There is a more than 50-50 chance this system can reach hurricane strength later in the weekend or early next week, forecasters said. All interests along the western and central Gulf coast should monitor the evolution and progress of this system.
Beyond Wilfred, Alpha and budding Beta, there are several other areas that forecasters are monitoring for tropical development in the Atlantic. Greek letters are likely to be used as AccuWeather meteorologists upped their 2020 season predictions for the number of total storms to 28, which would tie the record number of named storms in the basin set in the notorious 2005 season.