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Tropical Storm Alex in January? How rare are winter tropical storms?

Special (1/14/2016) Alex became a hurricane on Thursday Jan 14, 2016

Update [Wednesday January 13, 2016 at 5 pm AST]

Sub-Tropical Storm Alex has formed in the East Atlantic.  As discussed below, Alex is only the second-known storm to form during the month of January in the 174-year database (1842-present).

➡︎ See also:  Forecast #1 from Jan 7  and  Forecast #2 from Jan 12 with Stats

tropical-storm-alex-January-13-2016

Previous Discussion about Alex and Winter Tropical Storm Stats

At 2 pm EST on January 12, the National Hurricane Center raised the probability of tropical cyclone formation within the next 48 hours in the East Atlantic to 50%.  Although this system will not affect the United States, it is certainly very interesting for this time of year.

Official Statement from the NHC

Cloudiness and thunderstorms have become a little more concentrated and organized near the center of a non-tropical low pressure system centered about 1100 miles southwest of the Azores.  The low is producing winds to near 60 mph over the southern and eastern portions of its circulation.  Although environmental conditions are only marginally conducive for development, this system could become a subtropical or tropical storm within the next day or so.  The cyclone is expected to move eastward to northeastward over the eastern subtropical Atlantic over the next couple of days. Regardless of subtropical or tropical cyclone formation, this system is expected to produce hazardous marine conditions over portions of the eastern Atlantic for the next few days.  For additional information, see High Seas Forecasts issued by the National Weather Service and Meteo France.  The next Special Tropical Weather Outlook on this system will be issued by 2 PM EST Wednesday.

* Formation chance through 48 hours…medium…50 percent
* Formation chance through 5 days…medium…50 percent

possible-tropical-cyclone-atlantic-alex

Have January Tropical Storms Ever Occurred in the Atlantic?

Only one tropical cyclone has occurred in the Atlantic Basin during the month of January.  That storm was an unnamed hurricane in January of 1938.  Records date back to 1842, so statistically speaking (and assuming a perfect dataset prior to the satellite era), the odds are extremely small… only 1 in 174 (0.50% chance).

Have Atlantic Tropical Storms or Hurricanes Formed in February or March?

  • Only one tropical storm has occurred during the month of February (1952), with maximum winds of 50 knots.
  • Only one tropical cyclone, an unnamed hurricane, has occurred during the month of March (1908), with maximum sustained winds of 80 knots.
StormYearFormedDissipated
December Only
UNNAMED188712/4/188712/10/1887
UNNAMED188712/7/188712/12/1887
UNNAMED193612/2/193612/16/1936
UNNAMED195312/7/195312/9/1953
ALICE195412/30/19541/6/1955
LILI198412/12/198412/24/1984
ODETTE200312/4/200312/9/2003
PETER200312/7/200312/11/2003
ZETA200512/30/20051/7/2006
OLGA200712/10/200712/16/2007
UNNAMED201312/3/201312/7/2013
January - March
UNNAMED19083/6/19083/9/1908
UNNAMED19381/1/19381/6/1938
UNNAMED19522/2/19522/5/1952

The following maps show the individual storms mentioned above.   Also, I have included the December storms found in the dataset.  These data were obtained using NOAA’s International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS) data set.  The database includes over 6,000 tropical cyclones from 1842 to present.

All Atlantic Storms in the Months of January through March (1842 to Present)

atlantic-tropical-storms-january-through-march

All Atlantic Storms in the Month of December (1842 to Present)

all-december-tropical-storms-historical-atlantic

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1/7/16: First Forecast with a 30% Chance of Formation w/in 5 Days

TS-alex-possible-within-5-days

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