In the Atlantic Ocean, hurricane season in the northern hemisphere lasts typically from early June to late November. From a climatological perspective, this makes perfect sense, as tropical cyclones generally draw their power from the warmer waters near the equator during the warmest time of the year. So, color the meteorological community surprised by the news that, against all odds, Winter Storm Alex has been upgraded to hurricane status in the month of January. Yes, a hurricane in January.
According to the Associated Press, the National Weather Service in the United States announced Alex’s hurricane status on Thursday. Several warnings have been issued for the mid-Atlantic region off the coast of Western Europe, especially for the Azores islands — an autonomous region of Portugal.
Hurricane Alex’s maximum sustained winds were near 85 mph (140 kph). A hurricane warning was issued for Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores Islands, where the Civil Protection Service issued a weather red alert, the highest of four warnings that indicates extreme risk, for five of the archipelago’s nine islands. It said residents should expect waves up to 18 meters (60 feet) high and wind gusts up to 160 kph (100 mph).
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami reports that a hurricane hasn’t disrupted the waters of the Atlantic since Alice in 1955, which formed in December 1954. Alex, however, is the first storm on record to achieve hurricane status in the month of January since 1938. At the time of the initial NWS report, Alex’s center was located 415 miles south of Faial Island, one of the central Azores islands. However, experts suspect that the storm’s current northerly direction and speed of 20 mph will dump its full force on the archipelago sometime on Friday.
With an island-bound population of 250,000, the Azores are quite used to brutal tropical weather during the typical hurricane season. However, Alex’s timing has placed the local government on high enough alert to close down kindergarten schools and advise residents to prepare for hurricane-ford winds and rain.
The storm’s strongest recorded wind gusts of 100 mph aren’t enough to bump its categorization up to major hurricane status, but the likelihood of damage and possible loss of life is high enough to justify concern. Plus, as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher Jim Kossin told the AP, “Alex formed in what was about 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal.”