Subtropical Storm Beryl forms just in time for Memorial Day

Beryl is second named storm of 2012’s North Atlantic hurricane season. Last time we saw two named storms in Atlantic basin prior to June was back in 1908 and 1887.

Water Vapor imagery of Subtropical Storm Beryl this morning on Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 6 AM EDT. Image Credit: NHC

If you are planning on a wonderful beach getaway during Memorial Day Weekend 2012 across the U.S. Southeast coast, Subtropical Storm Beryl might ruin them. On the evening of May 25, 2012, the National Hurricane Center has designated an area of low pressure off the southeastern coast of the United States as Subtropical Storm Beryl. Beryl was initialized to have sustained winds of 45 miles per hour with a barometric pressure of 1001 millibars. Beryl will push to the southwest and impact parts of northern Florida, the Georgia coast, and parts of South Carolina. Beryl, unlike most storms, can actually be a blessing for these areas as they are experiencing severe to exceptional drought conditions and could use the rain. Beryl will affect the U.S. Southeast coast late Saturday evening and continue to produce soaking rains in the region through Memorial Day.

Infrared image of Subtropical Storm Beryl. Image Credit: CIMSS

Here’s are the latest update of Subtropical Storm Beryl as of 5:00 AM EDT Saturday, May 26, 2012:

Location: 32.3°N 75.6°W
About 180 miles…285 kilometers southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina
About 260 miles…415 kilometers east of Charleston, South Carolina
Sustained Winds: 45 mph
Pressure: 1001 mb
Movement: West-Southwest at 5 mph

The National Hurricane Center has issued Tropical Storm Warnings for Volusia/Brevard County line in northeast Florida northward into Edisto Beach, South Carolina. Warnings have been issued for the entire stretch of the Georgia coastline and includes Savannah, Georgia. Tropical Storm Watches have been issued north of Edisto Beach south to south Santee River, South Carolina.

Tropical storm warnings (highlighted in blue) and watches (green) have been issued by the NHC for this weekend. Image Credit: NHC

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) designated Beryl as a subtropical storm because it did not meet the full criteria for tropical storm status. To become a tropical system, you must have all of the follow characteristics (taken from the NHC):

-A warm-core non-frontal synoptic-scale cyclone
-originating over tropical or subtropical waters with organized deep convection
-a closed surface wind circulation about a well-defined center.
-Must be maintained by the extraction of heat energy from the ocean at high temperature and heat export at the low temperatures of the upper troposphere. In this they differ from extratropical cyclones, which derive their energy from horizontal temperature contrasts in the atmosphere (baroclinic effects).

Based on these criteria, the make or break it point for Beryl is the idea that convection needs to continue to build around the center of the storm so it can lift the tropopause (the highest part of the troposphere before you enter the stratosphere in our atmosphere) and erode the upper level low. Once it accomplishes this, it will become fully tropical. As of 5 AM EDT, clouds tops have warmed slightly, which does not indicate a strengthening storm system. Colder cloud tops show a strengthening storm system as convection, or thunderstorm activity, increases and continues to rise and build in the cyclone.

The track of Subtropical Storm Beryl

NHC forecast track for Beryl. Image Credit: NHC

The track of Beryl has had very good consensus among the model outputs. The majority of the models take Beryl pushing southwest into the Georgia and Florida coast by late Sunday night into early Monday morning. High pressure to the north of the system will act as a barrier for it to travel out to sea this weekend. As it pushes inland, the biggest question will be how long will the system remain over land and how far west will it travel. The system will eventually push northeast out of southern Georgia as a trough from the west- the same system that produced tornadoes in parts of Kansas on Friday, May 25, 2012- helps kick Beryl out of the U.S. Southeast. Beryl could then redevelop as it emerges back over ocean waters and could impact parts of South Carolina and North Carolina by the middle of next week around Wednesday and Thursday.

Intensity forecast

Beryl is currently trying to transition to become a fully tropical cyclone. It is battling out some dry air and moderate wind shear. Many of the models are very conservative with Beryl and do not show any significant strengthening with the system. In fact, many of them maintain the system as a weak tropical storm. Beryl will likely cross over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, which will be the best area to see some strengthening. For now, the NHC gives Beryl less than a 10% chance for the storm to become a hurricane with wind speeds sustained at 74 mph. NHC believes the storm will peak in intensity at 50 mph. Storm tracks are typically the strongest area to forecast for the NHC, but intensity forecasts are still a work in progress. We can tell if areas can be conducive for further strengthening, but it does not mean a system will strengthen. Beryl is a much larger storm than Tropical Storm Alberto from last week, so it will likely take a little longer for the storm to wrap up and become stronger. With that said, I think it is possible for Beryl to peak in intensity around 50 knots, or 60 mph.

Rare tropical season

The formation of Beryl this early in the season is quite rare. The Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1, but we already have two named storms prior the start of the season. The last time we saw two named storms in the Atlantic basin prior to the month of June was back in 1908 and 1887. According to James Belanger, a meteorologist from Georgia Tech, if Beryl makes landfall near Jacksonville or on the Georiga coast, it will be the first system to do so in that location since record keeping began. The closest system was an unnamed tropical storm back in 1934 that first made landfall in southern Florida and then moved northward along the Georgia coast. In the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Hurricane Bud intensified into a major hurricane with 115 mph late Thursday evening. According to Jeff Masters from Weather Underground, Bud became the strongest Eastern Pacific hurricane on record for so early in the year and is tied with Hurricane Alma of 2002 as the second strongest May hurricane on record. As of now, Bud has completely collapsed on itself as wind shear and dry air has practically dissipated the system this morning as it approached Mexico.

Beryl is mostly good news

Beryl will bring much needed rainfall for the drought stricken areas of the U.S. Southeast. Image Credit: U.S. Drought Monitor

Subtropical Storm Beryl is mainly good news for the U.S. Southeast. Although it will dampen Memorial Weekend plans for the coast, the area could really use the rainfall. Most of the area is experiencing severe to exceptional drought and could use the rain. Many areas could experience at least three to five inches of rain along the coast and possibly one to two inches further inland. The downside of Beryl is that it will bring rip currents along the coasts and could cause problems along the Georgia coastline with flooding and beach erosion.

Possible rainfall totals for the next five days, valid Saturday evening into Thursday evening. Image Credit: HPC

Bottom line: Subtropical Storm Beryl is forecast to push southwest and impact parts of Florida and Georgia. It will eventually push northeast towards the middle of next week and impact South Carolina and North Carolina as a cold front picks the system up. Beryl is likely to stay at tropical storm force, and the NHC only gives the system less than a 10% chance of becoming a hurricane. The main threats along the coasts will be rip currents, flooding, and maybe isolated tornadoes. Beryl is expected to make landfall late Sunday evening into early Monday morning. Everyone along the coast should monitor the storm and pay attention to your local National Weather Service for updates as the storm develops and continues to inch closer to the U.S. Southeast coast.

Matt Daniel

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