A rare winter hurricane, Alex, formed Thursday in the Atlantic, taking shape well after the end of hurricane season and becoming the first such storm to arise in January in 78 years.
At 5 a.m. Friday, Hurricane Alex, with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour, is on a track that poses no threat to the United States. The storm is about 1,000 miles off the coast of Morocco, a position that put it closer to Africa than North America, according to the National Hurricane Center.
A hurricane warning was issued for the central Azores, a cluster of islands about 900 miles west of Portugal.
Remarkably, Alex has undergone the transformation into a hurricane,” National Hurricane Center forecaster Richard Pasch wrote in the advisory issued Thursday morning.
Meteorologists expect Alex to produce 3 to 5 inches of rain over the Azores through Friday.
Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, when the vast majority of storms form. Alex is the first hurricane to form in January since 1938, when Franklin Roosevelt occupied the White House and a tropical storm in the middle of the Atlantic briefly achieved hurricane strength.
“It’s very unusual but not unprecedented,” said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “We’re in full-scale operation mode.”
While freakish meteorological events lead many people to wonder whether climate change is at work, Feltgen said there was no indication global warming had anything to do with this particular hurricane.
He said Alex arose from several factors coming together – a low-pressure zone moving east from the Bahamas into the mid-Atlantic and finding a patch of warm water in an area with little wind-shear. Such conditions are conducive to the formation of tropical storms and hurricanes.
“We’ve had tropical storms develop in every month outside of hurricane season, so it does happen,” he said.
But Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground, the online weather site, said the formation of Hurricane Alex and a Pacific counterpart Hurricane Pali, pointed to the significance of global warming as a factor.
“It is unlikely that Alex would have formed if these waters had been close to normal temperatures for this time of year,” he wrote. “The unusually warm waters for Alex were due, in part, to the high levels of global warming that brought earth its warmest year on record in 2015.’’
Whatever the causes, the storm does not indicate that we can expect more hurricanes this summer.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Feltgen said. “Pre-season activity is not a harbinger of what will occur in the hurricane season.”