Historically, July is not usually known for having a lot of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin. Maybe the Eastern and Western Pacific, but not the Atlantic. There are occasional anomalies such as in 1996 when Hurricanes Bertha and Cesar developed in the Atlantic. Bertha was actually the first July storm to form in the very far Eastern Atlantic, and made landfall near Wilmington, North Carolina as a Category Two Hurricane.
But, when it comes to tropical activity in July, the 2003 season is off the charts. And, when you throw in July 2003 with a rare April storm such as Ana, and Bill forming in late June, you have quite a start to the season in 2003. What to expect the rest of the way? Well, it could very well add up to a very active season. Forecasters such as William Gray and those at NOAA have already indicated that 2003 will be quite an active year with above average numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes.
As we mentioned in the opening of this story, July is not usually active by Atlantic tropical standards. If you see one storm during the entire month, it is considered a good month. That is because the climatic conditions aren't there yet for development. During the month of July, sea surface temperatures, particularly in the far eastern Atlantic, are still not warm enough for supporting tropical formation.
Remember, ocean temperatures have to be at least 80 degrees to support tropical storm and hurricane development. These kind of storms feed off the warm ocean water to get their strength. In addition, upper level winds are also not as favorable except in the Caribbean and perhaps the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, usually the Gulf and the Western Caribbean are the primary areas of development during the months of June and July.
However, in July 2003, the numbers have disagreed sharply with the norm. During the month of July, there were a total of four tropical disturbances including two depressions, two named storms, and a near Category Two Hurricane with Claudette. Claudette was not the only hurricane though. Hurricane Danny also formed in the less friendly waters of the North Atlantic. The development of Danny along with the sudden intensification by Claudette near the Texas coast made July 2003 quite a memorable month by tropical standards.
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With the development of several tropical disturbances during the month of July, 2003, the Atlantic tropics have already had quite a distinctive year. It all started back in April when Ana formed first as a subtropical storm, and then strengthened and organized into a minimal to mild tropical storm.
It was the first time ever since records have been kept that a storm formed during the month of April. Not to say that storms haven't formed prior to the official start of the Hurricane Season. Storms have formed in January, March, and quite often in May so it wasn't completely out of the ordinary, but still quite unusual.
Then, in June, the second named storm of the Atlantic Season, Bill, formed in the Atlantic, and grew to have winds of 60 mph. In addition to that, there was Tropical Depression Two that formed before that. Now, storms forming in the month of June are not that uncommon. There have even been powerful and noteworthy storms form in June such as Hurricane Audrey, which was a Category Four storm that struck Texas and Louisiana in 1957, and Hurricane Agnes, which was only a Category One storm, but it brought heavy rains and flooding to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in June, 1972.
However, when you add all of this up, you have seven tropical disturbances including four named storms, two hurricanes, and three tropical depressions, which makes the 2003 season start almost as fast as the start to the 1995 Hurricane Season. In 1995, there were already five named storms that formed including several hurricanes. And that season eventually ended up to be the most active since 1933 with 19 named storms, 11 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes.
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The fast start to the 2003 Atlantic Hurricane Season has many wondering what to expect the rest of the way. Well, originally, forecasters had the impression that the La Nina episode in the Eastern and Central Pacific was going to be stronger than it has actually been. During La Nina years, hurricane activity in the Atlantic tends to go up because upper level winds slacken and become more favorable for tropical formation and development.
Now, with La Nina not being as prevalent, some forecasters, including Dr. William Gray of Colorado State are backing off a bit from their earlier forecasts. Dr. Gray and his forecast team still has the same number of tropical storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes, but the net tropical activity indicator is down somewhat from June, 2003 with a 120 rating as supposed to 145 earlier in June. Meanwhile, other forecasters such as those at NOAA and NEMAS are more optimistic.
The latest forecast issued by NOAA indicates that there will be between 12-15 named storms, 7-9 hurricanes, and 3-4 major hurricanes, which is up slightly from the forecast issued in May. The May forecast indicated that there would be 11-15 named storms, 6-9 hurricanes, and 2-4 major hurricanes. Finally, NEMAS, which didn't issue an update to their June, 2003 forecast, indicates there will be 15 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes.
However, these numbers do not really matter when it comes down to it because it only takes one storm to be devastating and deadly. Take for example, Hurricane Andrew in 1992. In 1992, there were only seven named storms that formed, and Andrew, the first named storm of the year, formed in Mid-August. However, it was Andrew that became the most costliest storm in United States history as it caused some $27 billion dollars in damage. So, with that, you might as well throw out all the numbers swirling around, and make sure that you're prepared for whatever this and any other hurricane season has in store.
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