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Tropical Storm Nigel formed in the Atlantic Ocean late Saturday, becoming the latest named storm of the active 2023 hurricane season. Forecasters say Nigel will likely intensify into a hurricane soon, possibly as early as Sunday night.
The National Hurricane Center is monitoring the growing storm as it churns through the open Atlantic, located about 990 miles east-southeast of Bermuda as of Sunday evening. Nigel poses no immediate threat to land, but its development underscores an unusually busy season that could still see several more hurricanes.
Here are the key facts about strengthening Tropical Storm Nigel:
Nigel formed Saturday night and quickly organized on Sunday. It is forecast to become a hurricane soon, potentially reaching major hurricane strength by midweek.
As of Sunday evening, Nigel had maximum sustained winds of around 70 mph. Once winds reach 74 mph, a storm is considered a hurricane.
The storm is tracking west-northwest through the Atlantic around 990 miles from Bermuda. But forecast models suggest it will curve away from land.
An average season sees 14 named storms. Nigel is the 14th so far in 2023, an above-normal total suggesting an active season.
Major hurricanes with winds exceeding 110 mph can cause catastrophic damage. Experts warn climate change is making storms wetter, slower and more intense.
After Nigel, the next named storm to form would be Hurricane Ophelia based on predetermined lists of rotating names. The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30 each year.
The National Hurricane Center began monitoring the tropical disturbance that became Nigel late last week. By Saturday night, it had organized enough to be deemed Tropical Depression Fourteen. After winds strengthened Sunday, it was upgraded to Tropical Storm Nigel.
Forecasters say ideal conditions like low wind shear and high ocean temperatures will allow steady intensification over the next few days. Nigel is projected to reach hurricane strength no later than Monday night as it churns northwestward.
While Nigel’s long-term path remains uncertain, current models suggest it will curve away from the East Coast out to sea. But experts urge caution as any storm can defy predictions. They will closely monitor Nigel in the coming days even as it remains far from land.
Active 2023 Hurricane Season Defies Pre-Season Forecasts
Before the season began, forecasters expected an average year with between 14 to 21 named storms fueled by the arrival of El Niño. The climate pattern typically reduces Atlantic hurricanes by increasing disruptive wind shear.
But despite El Niño’s influence, activity ramped up quickly. Alex formed in early June, followed by Bonnie and Colin in July. Powerful late August Hurricane Danielle was the first major hurricane of 2023.
With 14 storms to date, the season is on the higher end of initial projections. And we’re still over two months from the end of hurricane season on November 30.
The rapid development of storms like Nigel defies the usual El Niño effects. And ocean temperatures are actually higher than average for this time of year. Those factors suggest the season could stay active for weeks to come.
Experts say forecasting is increasingly complex as climate change shifts traditional weather patterns. New forecasting techniques and adaptive planning will be required as hurricanes behave more erratically.
Major Hurricanes Drive Most Damage Through Wind and Water
Tropical storms and minor hurricanes can still cause localized flooding. But major hurricanes with sustained winds exceeding 110 mph account for the vast majority of damage and deaths.
Wind damage is proportional to storm strength. A Category 3 or 4 hurricane can destroy buildings, structures and forests with powerful gusts. Wind also drives dangerous storm surge, essentially walls of ocean water blown ashore, which can inundate coastlines under 10 feet or more.
But water overall generates the greatest hurricane hazard through both rainfall and surge. Nigel or other storms yet to form this season could unleash catastrophic flooding.
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey flooded the Houston area with over 60 inches of rain. In the Bahamas in 2019, Hurricane Dorian stalled and dumped almost 2 feet of rain. Climate change is increasing tropical cyclone rainfall rates as a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture.
Powerful hurricanes also evolve and intensify faster than ever before thanks to hot ocean temperatures. Rapid strengthening gives coastal residents less time to prepare and evacuate as storms balloon in size.
Experts Emphasize Preparedness as Peak Season Arrives
With Nigel brewing and peak season just beginning, officials emphasize hurricane readiness even if immediate threats are not imminent. Planning can save lives when a major storm takes aim with little notice.
The National Hurricane Center advises preparing a disaster supply kit and reviewing evacuation routes even if landfalls seem unlikely. Nigel’s development is a reminder it only takes one storm to trigger a catastrophe.
Residents across hurricane-prone coastlines should check emergency plans and supplies and follow storm updates closely. Forecasters use aircraft reconnaissance and satellite data to monitor systems like Nigel and provide the most accurate projections possible.
But storms can still defy prediction. So vigilance and caution are paramount with two hazardous months still ahead. Experts say proper planning before hurricane season and adherence to any evacuation orders are the best protections.
With Nigel strengthening and the Atlantic coming off a 30-year high in named storms in 2020, this season has more surprises in store. Anyone across storm-prone regions should use this calm to ensure they are ready for whatever may come next.