June 2, 2023

A cute li'l tropical storm in the Gulf kicks off the 2023 hurricane season

The first named storm of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season formed on Friday afternoon. 

Tropical Storm Arlene is a disheveled little thing spinning about a hundred miles off the western coast of Florida. It's not long for this world, thankfully, and it should dissipate near the tip of Cuba this weekend without much fanfare.

Arlene developed in the way most early-season storms do—a cold front stalled out over the northern Gulf of Mexico, giving rise to a low-pressure system that slowly gathered tropical characteristics.

An aircraft investigating the disturbance on Thursday discovered the system had organized into a tropical depression just about 18 hours into the first day of hurricane season. Another aircraft found it had strengthened just enough to warrant tropical storm status by Friday afternoon.

This is...not a healthy system. It's lopsided as a result of wind shear and dry air, essentially a cluster of persistent thunderstorms feeding off a tight, exposed swirl drifting over the open waters. It's a cute li'l thing to be sure, and it's exactly what you'd expect to see this early in the season.

The National Hurricane Center expects Arlene to steadily weaken into this weekend before dissipating off the tip of Cuba by Sunday.

Despite earning the first name on this hurricane season's list, this actually isn't the first storm of the year. That dubious distinction goes to an unnamed system that formed in the middle of January, believe it or not, about halfway between Bermuda and Nova Scotia.

While this system was a full-blown subtropical storm in the dead of winter, but the National Hurricane Center opted not to name it or issue any advisories at the time. Forecasters declared it a subtropical storm in hindsight in May, making it the year's first storm and one that'll forever live in the records as "Unnamed." (I wrote more about this unnamed storm for The Weather Network last month.)

That mid-January storm made this the eighth hurricane season in the past nine years to start before the 'official' kickoff of hurricane season on June 1st. Last year, the NHC began issuing its twice-daily outlooks on May 15 in response to this widening window. 

[top satellite image via NOAA]

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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.