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Why forecasters look closer to home early in the tropical season

So far the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season has kept fairly quiet ahead of the most active period, which begins in August and runs through September. This past weekend saw the development of an area to watch in the tropics. Looking at the National Hurricane Center's graphical outlook issued last Sunday morning, a disturbance was noted near Atlanta. One may find it odd that a tropical disturbance developed over land; however, this isn't the case.

Early season development closer to land is not unusual according to Meteorologist Justin Ballard. "This provides a unique challenge outside of the Main Development Region," or the part of the Atlantic basin where systems typically form, Ballard said. Because systems can form closer to land, this gives forecasters less time to warn the public. In the case of this current disturbance, the Florida Panhandle and other Gulf states are already experiencing heavy rains, and even flooding. Even unnamed systems can cause heavy damage in certain circumstances.

Systems can form close to land and without much warning because of the unique characteristics of the Gulf of Mexico. "Frontal boundaries give the atmosphere a certain amount of rotation," Ballard said, "and very often in June and July, you are still getting frontal boundaries near large bodies of water like the Gulf or the Atlantic." This allows for systems to form with short notice and typically close to land, as opposed to storms that form farther out into the Atlantic basin, which tend to be observed later in the season.

"Forecasting is a puzzle, where we watch the puzzle pieces come together to give us a picture of what's going on," Ballard said. In addition to the stalled frontal boundary, the Gulf waters are much warmer than in the Atlantic basin. Low wind shear, or change in wind activity, in the Gulf also makes it easier for systems to form.

As we get closer to the most active part of the season, Ballard reminds coastal residents to stay alert. "For people living along the Gulf, make sure to keep on top of the weather forecast every day. Things change, and they can change quickly."