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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Tropical Storm Nigel expected to become a hurricane


Hours after the powerful storm known as Lee made landfall in Canada, knocking out power for thousands, Tropical Storm Nigel formed in the Atlantic Ocean late Saturday, becoming the latest named storm of the 2023 hurricane season. The storm continued to strengthen Sunday, and was expected to become a hurricane during the night.

Here are three key things to know about Nigel:

— Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center said they expect the storm to strengthen over the next two days, growing strong enough to reach hurricane status as soon as Sunday night. Forecasters said Nigel is expected to approach major hurricane intensity by midweek.

— Sunday evenning, Nigel was in the open Atlantic, about 990 miles east-southeast of Bermuda.

— The hurricane center estimated the storm had sustained winds of 70 mph Sunday night. Tropical disturbances that have sustained winds of 39 mph earn a name. Once winds reach 74 mph, a storm becomes a hurricane, and at 111 mph it becomes a major hurricane.

The Atlantic hurricane season started June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

In late May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that there would be 12-17 named storms this year, a “near-normal” amount. On Aug. 10, NOAA officials revised their estimate upward, to 14-21 storms.

There were 14 named storms last year, after two extremely busy Atlantic hurricane seasons in which forecasters ran out of names and had to resort to backup lists. (A record 30 named storms took place in 2020.)

This year features an El Niño pattern, which arrived in June. The intermittent climate phenomenon can have wide-ranging effects on weather around the world, and it typically impedes the number of Atlantic hurricanes.

In the Atlantic, El Niño increases the amount of wind shear, or the change in wind speed and direction from the ocean or land surface into the atmosphere. Hurricanes need a calm environment to form, and the instability caused by increased wind shear makes those conditions less likely. (El Niño has the opposite effect in the Pacific, reducing the amount of wind shear.)

At the same time, this year’s heightened sea surface temperatures pose a number of threats, including the ability to supercharge storms.

That unusual confluence of factors has made solid storm predictions more difficult.

“Stuff just doesn’t feel right,” said Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University, after NOAA released its updated forecast in August. “There’s just a lot of kind of screwy things that we haven’t seen before.”

There is consensus among scientists that hurricanes are becoming more powerful because of climate change. Although there might not be more named storms overall, the likelihood of major hurricanes is increasing.

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