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Trio of areas warrant close watch for tropical development in Atlantic

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 7/1/2020 Alex Sosnowski

After a quick start to the 2020 hurricane season, the Atlantic is void of organized tropical systems. However, AccuWeather forecasters believe that could change with a few potential development zones to watch during the first week or two of July.

All three areas of concern are relatively close to North America and the United States, a type of system that meteorologists often refer to as "homegrown" due to its close proximity.

However, there are some hurdles that disturbances would need to overcome in order to strengthen into a named storm.

"Based on satellite information, there continues to be a considerable amount of dust over the southern Atlantic, Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico as of Wednesday morning," AccuWeather's top hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski said, adding that dust and associated dry air can inhibit development.

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Areas of dust and dry air are seen on a Wednesday, July 1, 2020 image as shades of yellow, orange and red. (NOAA / GOES)

"While this dust and dry air associated with it will work to suppress shower and thunderstorm activity over much of the Atlantic basin, there are some areas where there is little or no dust and dry air which we have to keep an eye on," Kottlowski explained.

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An area located a few hundred miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, or just north of Bermuda could evolve into a weak tropical system in the coming days.

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Clouds over the western Atlantic Ocean are associated with non-tropical area of low pressure on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. (NOAA/GOES-East)

"Currently, this area is experiencing disruptive wind shear, but that could change a bit as a non-tropical storm system responsible for daily downpours and thunderstorms in the coastal Northeast moves offshore late this week," according to Kottlowski.

Water temperatures are sufficiently high enough to support a developing tropical system should one take shape for a brief period, before being shunted off to the northeast over progressively colder water. The critical sea surface temperature that meteorologists watch for tropical activity is 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

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"It could end up being a Dolly-like feature with a short life span," Kottlowski said.

Tropical Storm Dolly formed over warm waters on June 23 offshore of the U.S. East Coast and dissipated on June 24 southeast of Canada.

Regardless, steering breezes should keep the feature away from the U.S. and southeastern Canada, but the system could be a concern for shipping if it were to spin up.

Two other areas meteorologists are keeping a close eye on will be hugging the southeastern U.S. coast during the first full week of July. Both areas are part of the same non-tropical weather regime and could give birth to a low-grade tropical or sub-tropical system. A sub-tropical depression or storm is one that has both tropical and non-tropical characteristics.

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Both of these non-tropical features will contribute to persistent drenching showers and thunderstorms over the Southeastern states from late this week, through the Independence Day weekend and into next week.

"The timeline for tropical development of the near-coast features is from late this weekend to next week," Kottlowski said.

Steering breezes would probably take any feature that forms from the northeast Gulf to far-western Atlantic waters toward the Northeast and eventually away from the U.S. However, if a system were to take shape in the northeastern Gulf, it would have to drift across northern Florida and/or southeastern Georgia to reach the Atlantic.

"At this time, the chance of a tropical or sub-tropical depression evolving from the feature north of Bermuda and/or over the U.S. southern Atlantic and northeastern Gulf coasts is rather low and about 20% in the coming days," Kottlowski stated.

AccuWeather meteorologists will continue to keep tabs on the tropical setup and continue to evaluate the development potential in the coming days.

If an organized tropical system that would generate gusty winds fails to develop, then, in turn, enhanced waves, strong rip currents and pounding surf would not be anticipated along the upper Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts. On the other hand, if a storm were to form, conditions could then deteriorate on the beaches.

Maximum sustained winds must reach at least 39 mph and up to 73 mph to be classified as a tropical storm. Sustained winds of 74 mph are the lower limit of Category 1 hurricanes.

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But, even if an organized tropical system does not form, the pattern could still produce locally gusty winds and downpours as well as strong thunderstorms with the potential to spawn a couple of waterspouts. Bathers and boaters in near-shore waters of the Southeastern states should stay aware for changing weather conditions as they go on about their holiday weekend activities.

Should one of the three trouble spots strengthen into a named tropical storm, it would acquire the name Edouard. The next names on the list for the 2020 Atlantic season are Fay, Gonzalo and Hanna.

The earliest fifth-named tropical storm on record since the satellite era of the 1960s and 1970s is Emily from the blockbuster 2005 hurricane season. This year brought a record number of tropical cyclones, 31, with 27 named storms and 15 hurricanes. Seven of the storms strengthened into major hurricanes of Category 3 or greater on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Emily became a named storm on July 12 and went on to become a powerful and deadly Category 5 hurricane that tracked through the Caribbean.

The earliest sixth-named tropical storm on record is Franklin, which also came to life during the 2005 season. Franklin formed on July 21, near the central Bahamas, and traveled northeastward, well off the U.S. coast. Franklin did not reach hurricane strength.

Should none of the aforementioned features bud into a tropical system, it is not uncommon for there to be a lull in tropical activity during July and early August after an active spring.

This is due to the usual presence of dry air, dust and wind shear over the equatorial part of the Atlantic basin and a lack of non-tropical systems dipping southward from North America which could evolve into a tropical system.

Conditions typically ramp up during late August and September as the strength of disturbances moving westward off Africa, called tropical waves, tends to peak, combined with water temperatures climbing to peak values for the year.

AccuWeather is projecting a busy season ahead with 14-20 named tropical storms with seven to 11 hurricanes and four to six major (Category 3 or higher) hurricanes. Four tropical storms are already in the books for the season, with one U.S. landfall.

Cristobal became the earliest "C" named storm in recorded history for the Atlantic on June 2, a feat that typically does not occur until around the middle of August. The storm went on to crash ashore along the U.S. Gulf Coast, where it unleashed flooding. Dolly was the second-earliest "D" named storm ever in the basin, but it moved out to sea without impacting land.

Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.

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