Record-setting Atlantic hurricane season about to kick into overdrive

Sept. 10 is the statistical peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic, and forecasters are keeping an eye on multiple areas for new development.

The extremely active Atlantic hurricane season is about to kick into overdrive. As many as three to five named tropical systems could be churning through the Atlantic at the same time by the middle of September, forecasters warned, and more records could be on the line in what is shaping up to be a historic season.

So far in the 2020 season, Cristobal and every storm from Edouard through Rene all became the earliest storm to develop in the basin for their respective letters. That trend of early formation records is expected to continue with disturbances lining up off Africa and in the waters near the United States over the next week. The current early-season record holders for the letters S through W were all set in October 2005, but many or all of these may be replaced prior to the end of September.

Paulette and Rene can be seen swirling on this Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, satellite image. The tropical storms can be seen in the image above to the right of center, while disturbed areas east of the Bahamas and the eastern Gulf of Mexico (left of center) and along the Africa coast (lower right) are also visible. (CIRA at Colorado State / GOES-East)

With the potential for one to three systems to become tropical depressions or greater in the next week, there could be up to five tropical cyclones spinning simultaneously in the Atlantic, an unusual occurrence that has not occurred since Sept. 10-12, 1971.

The most likely area to develop first is a strong tropical wave that was igniting showers and thunderstorms and was moving westward off the coast of Africa on Thursday.

"This strong tropical wave off the west coast of Africa has a high chance of becoming a tropical storm during this weekend or early next week as it moves almost due west," AccuWeather's top hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski said.

The next name on the list of tropical storms for 2020 is Sally, followed by Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred.

There is a chance this particular feature could take a general westerly path across the islands of the northern Caribbean by late next week to next weekend.

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And even more disturbances were already in queue behind the first wave. "As of Thursday morning, there were as many as four tropical waves moving westward across Africa," Kottlowski stated.

Any one of these can develop as they move over the warm waters of the Atlantic in the coming days, depending on the amount of available moisture versus the amount of disruptive winds.

Another strong disturbance is forecast to move off the coast of Africa this weekend.

And far out in the Atlantic wasn't the only region forecasters are busy monitoring in the basin. There are a couple of areas relatively close to the southern U.S. that bear watching for potential development into next week.

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One such disturbance will move northwestward and reach the Gulf of Mexico this weekend, where it could quickly develop into a tropical depression and storm by early next week. This system is a concern for the northern and eastern Gulf coast of the U.S.

Another disturbance, already over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, could slowly strengthen as it drifts west-southwestward over bath-warm waters into next week.

Meanwhile, Paulette, currently a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, about 975 miles southeast of Bermuda, will gain strength in the coming days.

"We expect Paulette to strength, and is forecast to become hurricane as it approaches Bermuda early next week," Kottlowski said.

There is a significant chance Paulette reaches Category 2 hurricane status or greater as it passes near or perhaps right over Bermuda from later Monday to Tuesday. A Category 2 hurricane has sustained winds of 96-110 mph. A Category 3 hurricane has winds of 111-129 mph. Interests in Bermuda should closely monitor the progress of Paulette.

A non-tropical system is likely to act as a barrier to prevent Paulette from coming within more than a few hundred miles of the U.S. Atlantic coast later next week. However, if that system were to set up farther west or weaken, then Paulette could drift farther to the west as well.

Eight hundred miles farther to the east and 1100 miles west-northwest of the Cabo Verde Islands, Tropical Storm Rene, packing 40-mph maximum sustained winds, is forecast to linger over the middle of the Atlantic. However, Rene was severely blasted by strong wind shear since midweek and appeared to be poorly developed on Friday morning.

"Rene is expected to move on a more northwesterly course through a favorable environment for intensification into this weekend, but the chance of the system becoming a hurricane have decreased," Kottlowski said.

From later this weekend to early next week, Rene may enter a zone of increasing wind shear, which would cause the system to weaken once again. At this time, Rene is only anticipated to be a concern for shipping.

Florence, Isaac and Helene, all hurricanes, pictured in a satellite image from Sept. 10, 2018. (NASA Worldview)

There have been as many as three hurricanes spinning at the same time in the Atlantic as recently as 2018 with Florence, Isaac and Helene, as well as 2017 with Katia, Irma and Jose.

Katia, Irma and Jose, all hurricanes, pictured in a satellite image from Sept. 7, 2017. (NASA Worldview)

The record for simultaneous hurricanes in the Atlantic is four. Georges, Karl, Jeanne and Ivan all spun in the basin at the same time from Sept. 25-27, 1998.

Hurricanes Georges, Karl, Jeanne and Ivan seen spinning in the Atlantic on a satellite loop from Sept. 25-27, 1998. (NOAA)

Four hurricanes also churned Atlantic waters on Aug. 22, 1893, and one made a deadly strike in Georgia and South Carolina. The lives of 1,000 to 2,000 people were claimed by the hurricane.

Once the English alphabet is exhausted for this season with Wilfred being the last name on the list, the Greek alphabet will be utilized for only the second time ever. The first time was during the 2005 season when there were 28 named storms. The 2020 season has the potential to rival that record with its current hyperactive state that is likely to continue through much of the remainder of the season.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially ends on Nov. 30, but there could be a storm or two in December, given the recent official development of La Niña conditions over the tropical Pacific.

La Niña is part of a routine fluctuation in sea surface temperatures over the tropical Pacific, called the El Niño Southern Oscillation. In the La Niña, or cool water phase over the tropical Pacific, waters in the Atlantic tend to run warmer than average, which leads to more rising air and more moisture over a large part of the basin. In this mode, westerly winds tend to blow less forcefully over the Atlantic, which can allow more tropical storms to form. Plus, storms can sustain for longer and become stronger than average in this pattern.

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

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