The first storm of the Atlantic hurricane season may arrive in time for the season’s first week, and it’s not coming from where you’d expect.
Remnants of what was once Hurricane Agatha in the Pacific Ocean earlier this week are now expected to become Tropical Storm Alex in the Gulf of Mexico by Thursday, which would make it the first named storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season.
Hurricane Agatha made landfall in southwestern Mexico on Monday as a Category 2 storm that knocked down power lines and dumped as much as 20 inches of rain there. It’s not expected to pack the same punch when its remnants enter the Gulf of Mexico later this week, but local meteorologists are still instructing Tampa Bay residents to be wary as the region is near the system’s projected path.
The system on Tuesday afternoon was given a 70% chance of strengthening into a tropical storm or depression by the National Hurricane Center. The center expects the storm to travel across the Gulf of Mexico toward the southern gulf coast of Florida by the end of the week.
There’s no reason to worry just yet, however, said Paul Close of the National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office. The system is still disorganized and its future is particularly uncertain as a result. Three models project the storm will strike either Charlotte or Sarasota counties, just south of Tampa Bay. Others predict the system will never make it off Mexico’s mainland.
Close does warn, however, that the already-warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico mean the system could develop quickly and catch some locals by surprise.
“The guidance to this point is really all over the place,” said Close. “People here should be checking in at least a couple of times a day. If it does develop, it could happen fast.”
Should the storm center in on Florida’s west coast, Close says the region would begin feeling impacts Friday night through Saturday. Regardless of whether Alex organizes into a tropical storm or not, the National Hurricane Center says all of Florida’s west coast should prepare for four to six inches of rain this weekend.
Close says few storms cross from the Pacific Ocean into the Atlantic basin, which is also making this system harder to forecast than usual.
Trans-ocean storms are rare in the tropics as most dissipate while passing over the rugged land of Central America and Mexico, but these storms are not completely unheard of.
The most recent system to have its remnants survive after landfall and become a named storm in a new ocean basin came just last year. Hurricane Grace, which formed in the Atlantic, had mostly dissipated over Mexico before it crossed into the Pacific Ocean and organized into Tropical Storm Marty.
It’s not as common for storms to make the jump from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic basin, but it did happen in 2020 when Tropical Storm Amanda crossed over Guatemala and Belize to become Tropical Storm Cristobal in the Bay of Campeche.
Despite being the remnants of Hurricane Agatha, this system will receive its own name because it did not maintain circulation while crossing over Mexico, according to Meteorologist Matthew Cappucci of The Washington Post. If it remained organized, the system would keep the name Agatha even after it enters the Gulf of Mexico.
Early-season tropical systems are often weak because the Atlantic Ocean still lacks the warm water needed to sustain them. Close said the Gulf of Mexico is already above 80 degrees off Florida’s coast, however, which is plenty warm enough for a system to strengthen into at least a tropical storm.
“The water is warm enough and right now that’s all it really needs,” said Close.
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