- National Hurricane Center
- Subtropical Storm Alberto is the first named cyclone of the 2018 hurricane season, according to the National Hurricane Center.
- Alberto formed Friday morning in the northwest Caribbean Sea and is headed for the Gulf Coast.
- Alberto is expected to bring tropical storm conditions, including flooding rains, coastal storm surges, and gusty winds.
This Memorial Day weekend, anyone seeking nice weather should avoid South Florida and the Gulf Coast.
Technically, hurricane season begins June 1, but the first cyclone of the year has already arrived.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) announced Friday morning that Alberto, the first named storm of the year, formed as a subtropical storm over the northwest Caribbean Sea.
Alberto is expected to pass the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula tonight, according to the NHC’s first Alberto update. By Saturday morning, it’s expected to reach Cuba’s western side, before it hits the southeastern Gulf of Mexico on Saturday night. Monday, Alberto is expected to approach the north-central Gulf Coast.
A subtropical cyclone has characteristics of both tropical and extratropical cyclones, and tends to have a broader maximum wind radius than the cone of most tropical cyclones. It’s also possible Alberto will transition into a more standard tropical storm.
Heavy rains from Subtropical Storm #Alberto are expected across the Yucatan Peninsula, western Cuba, and southern Florida for the next few days. Heavy rain will likely begin to affect the central Gulf Coast and southeastern US later this weekend. pic.twitter.com/pz13P29VlF
— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) May 25, 2018
Definitions aside, the impacts of the storm are expected to be serious. Right now, heavy flooding rain, gusty winds, and isolated tornadoes are possible for South Florida, according to Bryan Norcross, a hurricane specialist at The Weather Channel. The northern Gulf Coast could then see flooding rain, winds strong enough to form tornadoes, and isolated storm surge flooding.
Tropical storm watches are in effect for Tulum to Cabo Catoche, Mexico, and the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio.
The Gulf is particularly warm right now, so there’s a slight chance Alberto could intensify to hurricane strength if it spends enough time over warm water, according to Norcross. Strengthening is expected for the next 72 hours, according to the NHC.
An early start for hurricane season
An early named storm doesn’t indicate the this year’s hurricane season will be more or less active than normal. Right now, early forecasts project that the number of storms will be higher than average, and several forecasts indicate an above-average likelihood that a major hurricane will make landfall in the Caribbean, the Gulf Coast, or the US East Coast.
That includes the newly released forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which projects a 75% chance that the season will be near or above normal in terms of hurricane activity.
But it’s worth noting that before the 2017 hurricane season started, forecasts from NOAA, Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project, and The Weather Channel had pegged that year as likely to be above average but not extreme. It turned out to be one of the most disastrous and extremely active hurricane seasons on record.
No matter how many storms end up forming in the coming months, it takes only one cyclone hitting a populated area to make a season “active” for coastal residents.