The first named storm of the hurricane season is trundling west across the Atlantic. Are we in for a big storm season?
Currently Bertha is heading slightly north west and is expected to then swing to the north. This will take her into colder waters where she will continue to weaken and turn back into your everyday depression. Bertha will probably then hitch a ride on the gulf stream and ditch a load of her rain on Britain, such has been the summer over here this year!
However, weakening though this hurricane is, Bertha has already managed to get herself into the record books. Simply by being the named storm to have travelled the furthest east before the 1st August. For the record she was named a tropical storm at 24.7° W beating poor old tropical storm Anna who reached 36.0° W, way back in 1969.
Now a hurricane basically is an area of intense low pressure that originates over the warm tropical oceans. Frequently beginning life as a jumbled mass of large thunderstorms as they head off the west coast of Africa, these depressions feed on the warm ocean and explode into the monster hurricanes that can cause so much destruction when they make landfall thousands of miles later.
The track of the hurricane is key to it's size. A hurricane needs a warm ocean to survive. If it travels north the waters cool and the hurricane weakens. If it travels across Florida then a hurricane may temporarily weaken, but gather strength again once it heads out into the warm waters of the gulf of Mexico – one reason why Katrina was such a devastating storm. Of course, just because a storm weakens it doesn't necessarily mean that it will lose its destructive ability. Often an ex hurricane meandering up the north east coast of the United States will interact with a system coming off the mainland and cause massive damage to the coast and to shipping.
Anyway, getting back to Big Bertha. It is interesting to note that the sea surface temperatures where Bertha was born are a couple of degrees centigrade warmer than average. So what impact will this have on the rest of the hurricane season? Well the last time a hurricane developed so far west, so early in the season, was 2005. And 2005 will be remembered for hurricane Katrina's impact on New Orleans and the surrounding coastal regions, making Katrina one of the most destructive storms to make landfall in the US ever. 2005 also saw a total of 15 hurricanes, 7 major hurricanes, and 4 category five hurricanes. These included the massive storms Emily, Rita and Wilma. The total losses from these 4 storms exceeded $120 billion.
So past storm history may mean that we are now entering an ominous season. If Bertha trundles off into the mid-Atlantic, minding her own business and going with the flow, little will she know that she could have been a prophetess of doom for one of the most severe hurricane seasons for many years! Only time will tell.