It's been big news in the meteorology world over the last month or so about the lack of tropical storms and more importantly, the lack of hurricanes we have seen so far this year. The 2013 Atlantic Season missed having the latest forming hurricane by only a few hours. Hurricane Humberto was officially designated a hurricane at the 5 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center. Back in 2002, Tropical Storm Gustav was upgraded to hurricane status at the 8 a.m. advisory. Scientists will revisit the data associated with this storm and it is possible some adjustments will be made, but no telling in which direction. So, we've had a really late first hurricane, does that mean the rest of the season is a bust too? Well, we'll look at this issue from a few directions. First, climatologically speaking, we just hit the peak of hurricane season. While technically it is "all down hill from here", the later part of the season is also when the majority of storms form, in fact near 75% of them. Second, the seasons with the latest hurricane development, also produced some doozies later on. In 2001, Hurricane Erin waited until September 9th to finally show up. A month later Hurricane Michelle unleashed on the Caribbean bringing devastating rains and category 4 winds. After Gustav in 2002, Hurricane Lili wreaked havoc on the Louisiana coastline just three years before Katrina. So the possibility of some heavy hitters through the rest of season is certainly there.
Let's take a quick look at why we have been so fortunate and if that will continue. Among many factors that contribute to tropical storm and hurricane formation are warm sea surface temperatures, low wind shear and a moist atmosphere. Sea surface temperatures have been warm all across the Atlantic Basin and especially into the Gulf of Mexico. The problems arise with the other two factors. A phenomena known as the Saharan Air Layer provides a transport of dust from the African continent over the Atlantic Ocean. This dust layer significantly dries out the atmosphere and prevents the needed moisture from accumulating to produce the thunderstorms. Upper level wind shear from weather patterns across the tropical "breeding region" have also been mostly unfavorable. High wind shear also prevents the towering thunderstorms from developing which effectively kills a storm before it can get started. So, the Atlantic Ocean may be in a funk for a while longer in terms of tropical activity, but the sheltered nature of the Gulf is staying primed for development. The Gulf of Mexico is the area to watch over the next month and also gives us the best chance for a US land-falling hurricane.