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Azores storm could become Subtropical Storm Alberto

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 7:56 PM GMT on May 12, 2012

An interesting and surprising hybrid low pressure system with both tropical and extratropical characteristics has formed over the far Eastern Atlantic, about 400 miles southwest of the southern Azores Islands. This low, designated Invest 92L by NHC today, has developed an impressive amount of heavy thunderstorm activity near its center, despite the fact that it is over cold ocean waters with temperatures of 66°F (19°C.) This is well below the 26°C usually needed for a tropical storm to form. However, there is quite cold air aloft, so the temperature difference between the surface the upper levels has been great enough to create sufficient instability for 92L to organize. Wind shear is a moderate 15 - 20 knots, and satellite estimates of 92L's winds were 63 mph at 1:45 pm EDT Saturday, according to NOAA/NESDIS. NHC estimated that 92L had top winds of 50 mph at 2 pm EDT Saturday.

Figure 1. Afternoon satellite photo of Invest 92L, taken at 16 UTC May 12, 2012, by NASA's Aqua satellite. Image credit: NASA.

NHC is giving 92L a 40% chance of developing into a named storm by Monday. They will be reluctant to name it Alberto unless the storm can maintain it's current level of heavy thunderstorm activity for at least 6 - 12 hours. The storm's heavy thunderstorms have weakened some during the afternoon, making it less likely NHC will be inclined to name it; the fact that 92L is over waters of 66°F (19°C) hurts its chances. The coldest waters I've seen a tropical storm form in were 19°C, during Tropical Storm Grace of 2009. Grace holds the record for being the farthest northeast forming tropical cyclone in the Atlantic basin. Like 92L, Grace also formed near the Azores Islands, but in early October. The coldest waters I've seen a hurricane form in were 22°C, for Hurricane Epsilon of 2005. Latest guidance from the computer models show 92L meandering to the south of the Azores through Monday, then beginning a slow motion towards the northeast by Tuesday.

Jeff Masters


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