Tropical Storm Alberto, which swept the Georgia and South Carolina coasts with wind and rain Saturday night and Sunday morning, was an unusual May storm, but not something unheard of, according to Al Sandrik, warning coordinator meteorologist with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency in Jacksonville.
“Historically, this happens every couple of decades,” Sandrik said. “The southwest Atlantic basin has seen 17 tropical storms or hurricanes in May since 1851. May storms are unusual, but they’re not unheard of. We had two storms in May in 2007.”
Sandrik emphasized that an early start to hurricane season doesn’t necessarily mean a violent season. According to Dr. Bill Gray, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University and known for his hurricane predictions, 2012 is supposed to be a below-normal season. However, fewer hurricanes don’t necessarily mean weaker hurricanes, Sandrik said.
“All it takes is one bad hurricane to mess up your day,” Sandrik said. “You have to take hurricanes and hurricane season seriously and be prepared.”
The National Hurricane Center reported Saturday that Tropical Storm Alberto — the first named East Coast storm for the 2012 hurricane season — had formed off the Georgia and South Carolina coasts, sending storm clouds inland over the Carolinas and coastal Georgia. At its peak Saturday evening, the storm was packing winds up to 60 miles per hour.
By Monday morning, winds were down to 40 mph, and there were no coastal watches or warnings. By Tuesday morning, the storm was downgraded to a tropical depression.
“We knew it was out there,” said Mike Hodges, director of the Liberty County Emergency Management Agency, explaining the storm didn’t really catch meteorologists or EMA personnel off-guard. “But it did surprise us how it turned tropical so quickly. This was the storm system that just went through here last week. It sat out there in those warm waters off the coast and gained strength. Then it started moving back toward us.”
As predicted, Alberto never made landfall but started turning northeast. Hodges said that most of the high winds avoided Liberty County, and the added rain helped with the current drought, especially east of Interstate 95.
According to a CNN weather report, this year marks the first time in recorded meteorological history that both the Atlantic basin and the Pacific basin had tropical storms before the official start of hurricane season.
Sandrik said the Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1, while the Pacific hurricane season starts May 15. Pacific Tropical Storm Aletta formed May 14 while Atlantic Tropical Storm Alberto formed May 19.