Tropical Storm Arthur is dissipating, having been downgraded to a tropical depression as it passed over the Yucatán Peninsula.
The first named storm of the 2008 Atlantic season came almost directly on time, with June 1 representing the official start of the hurricane season.
Arthur is still dangerous, threatening 10-15 inches of rain, flooding and landslides across parts of Mexico and Guatemala.
The next tropical storm to form will be named Bertha.
The forecast from the government's Climate Prediction Center says it's likely that 2008 will be an active year for hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Caribbean. For gamblers, there's a 65% probability that we'll see an above-average storm season, a 25% chance it will be average and just 10% that it will be below average.
What does that mean? It means there's a good chance we'll see 12 to 16 named storms, including six to nine hurricanes and two to five major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale).
Average is 11 named storms including six hurricanes, two of them major storms.
The hurricane season typically reaches a peak in late summer.
Last season did not produce the predicted number of storms. There were more named storms but fewer hurricanes than predicted. Those hurricanes that did form intensified rapidly before landfall, and the first-ever record of back-to-back Category 5 landfalls came when Hurricanes Dean and Felix hit Central America. (The names Dean and Felix, along with Noel, a weaker but deadly 2007 Caribbean storm, have been retired.)
The last several months have seen a flurry of science related to global warming and hurricanes. A longtime proponent of the idea that warmer ocean temperatures will produce stronger storms, Kerry Emanuel, has called that hypothesis into doubt. But the government has said that warmer oceans will produce fewer, but stronger storms in the coming decades. The jury, it seems, is still out, as scientists study the complex forces that influence hurricane behavior.
This year, a lingering La Niña (cool pattern) in the Southern Pacific, warmth in the tropical Atlantic, and the strong-phase of a multidecadal storm activity cycle are expected to be driving forces behind an active storm year.
Arthur Formed quickly on May 31 off Belize and lost tropical storm strength in fewer than 24 hours, but brought punishing rains of 10-15 inches to parts of the Yucatán Peninsula, including Mexico and Guatemala.
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