CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season has already been active. It got going early this year on May 19 with Tropical Storm Alberto, and it could get a whole lot busier here shortly. The climatological peak, when there is likely to be an active tropical system, is September 10.
There are a few reasons for this. One of those reasons is because the water in the entire Atlantic basin is warm by this point, just past mid summer. The basin includes the North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes generally need water warmer than about 82 degrees to form and thrive.
August through September is also busier because the "Cape Verde" portion of the Hurricane Season is in full swing. These are the storms with origins near the Cape Verde Islands just off the west coast of Africa. They traverse vast amounts of warm water, which is fuel for a developing hurricane.
The danger is that these can grow into the largest most powerful storms on earth, and often enter the Gulf of Mexico or head toward the southeast United States.
This time of year, large thunderstorm complexes move across the north central portion of the African continent and emerge in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Once over water they move along the periphery of the subtropical ridge to the north, typically trekking west northwest. Not all of these tropical waves will form into a storm, but they are very intently monitored by meteorologists around the Atlantic basin.
Cape Verde storms are well known in the U. S. as the large damaging hurricanes of late summer and early fall.
The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was a Cape Verde storm. It was a category four hurricane with winds estimated at 145mph when it made landfall. This is the deadliest and costliest hurricane in U. S. history. It killed between 6,000-12,000 people in Texas.
Another storm with origins near the Cape Verde Islands slammed the South Carolina coast in 1989, Hugo. This hurricane still ranks as one of the costliest storms in the U. S., and killed 27 South Carolinians.
In the quiet season of 1992, Hurricane Andrew formed near the Cape Verde Islands. This year is the 20 year anniversary of Andrew, and it is the last category five hurricane to strike the U.S. in south Florida.
It looked like this year was going to be a year with average to below average numbers of storms, before the season started. Now it appears the season may be a little more active after all, due mainly in part to a weaker more delayed El Nino than anticipated. It tends to quell tropical development.
With the Cape Verde season initiating and weak or no El Nino, now is the time to watch the tropics very closely.
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