Is Gamma on the way?
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center are tracking a tropical wave in the Caribbean Sea that, if it were to form, would be the 24th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.
The wave is forecast to move toward the west and northwest over the next couple days and “interact with a frontal system, producing a broad area of low pressure over the western Caribbean Sea by Thursday night or Friday,” the Hurricane Center said.
Forecasters say the conditions are right for some development after that, and a tropical depression could form over the weekend. While the chances of formation in the next two days are low, the Hurricane Center says there’s a 60% chance of formation in the next five days.
In a historically active hurricane season, 2020 has already seen 23 other named storms — about double the average for an entire season. Forecasters every year have a list of 21 pre-approved names corresponding to letters of the alphabet, excluding Q, U, X, Y and Z, and if they run out of names — a notably rare occurrence — they turn to Greek letters.
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Only once before have Greek letters been employed. The hyperactive 2005 season wound up using six Greek names: Tropical Storm Alpha, Hurricane Beta, Tropical Storm Gamma, Tropical Storm Delta, Hurricane Epsilon and Tropical Storm Zeta.
This year has already seen storms Alpha, a short-lived subtropical storm over Portugal, and Beta, a tropical storm that soaked Texas and the Gulf Coast. Gamma would be up next.
Two major hurricanes have also formed this season, with winds of 111 mph or more, meaning they reached Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale: Hurricanes Laura and Teddy.
Laura caused widespread damage in Louisiana and southeastern Texas when it roared ashore as a Category 4 storm. Teddy never made landfall in the U.S. but brushed past Maine into Canada after it had lashed Bermuda.
Hurricane Sally, though not a “major hurricane” in terms of wind speeds, still drenched Alabama and Florida with heavy rains and caused massive flooding.
The active season has also renewed concerns and raised questions about climate change. While no single storm can be attributed to climate change, scientists say it has caused strong storms to be even stronger. Warmer air also holds more moisture, making storms rainier, and rising seas from global warming make storm surges higher and more damaging.
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Scientists have been seeing tropical storms and hurricanes slow down once they hit the United States by about 17% since 1900, and that gives them the opportunity to unload more rain over one place, as Sally did in the Southeast and 2017’s Hurricane Harvey did in Houston.
Contributing: Doyle Rice, Dinah Voyles Pulver and Cheryl McCloud