The earliest tenth-named storm in Atlantic history came onto the scene August 13 with the NOAA-National Hurricane Center’s upgrade of Tropical Depression 11 to Tropical Storm Josephine.
Josephine arrived well ahead of the previous record set by Tropical Storm Jose on August 22, 2005. Six other Atlantic storms have set similar records during this already-hyperactive season.
Notwithstanding its historic timing, Josephine is not expected to bring major impacts to land over the next few days. As of 11 a.m. EDT Thursday, Josephine was located nearly 1,000 miles east of the Northern Leeward Islands, moving west-northwest with top sustained winds at 45 mph.
After days of dishevelment, Josephine was looking considerably more organized on Thursday, with a robust core of showers and thunderstorms now located over the center of circulation. Josephine’s best chance of strengthening will be over the next day or so, as vertical wind shear holds at very light levels (around five knots). Forecast models generally agree that Josephine will become a moderate to high-end tropical storm but is unlikely to reach hurricane strength. As Josephine continues west-northwest into the weekend, it will experience much higher wind shear (20-30 knots) associated with an upper low near the Bahamas. Even though Josephine will be passing over progressively warmer waters of 28-29 degrees Celsius (82-84°F), the relentless shear will push dry mid-level air into the storm and likely trigger a steady weakening.
Well-defined steering currents will take Josephine on a classic course angling gradually toward the northwest before recurving to the north and northeast. Models are in strong agreement that Josephine will pass far enough north to stay clear of the Leeward Islands.
A pace that’s dismantling the record books
Seven of the 10 named storms in this hyperactive season have been the earliest on record for their positions in the naming scheme, as shown at Wikipedia’s excellent compilation of Atlantic tropical cyclone records:
Arthur (May 17); record earliest January 3, 1938
Bertha (May 27); record earliest May 17, 1887
Cristobal (June 2); old record June 5, 2016
Dolly (June 23); record earliest June 20, 2016
Eduoard (July 6); old record July 11, 2005
Fay (July 9); old record July 21, 2005
Gonzalo (July 22); old record July 24, 2005
Hanna (July 24); old record August 3, 2005
Isaias (July 30); old record August 7, 2005
Josephine (August 13); old record August 22, 2005
Another index of this year’s torrid pace: We are running more than two months ahead of the average formation date of the tenth named storm (October 19, based on the period 1966-2009).
Fortunately, the 2020 Atlantic season so far this year has spawned fewer and weaker hurricanes than its only rival, 2005. Among the latter year’s first nine named storms, four were hurricanes, including Cindy (peaking at Category 1 strength), Dennis (Cat 4), Emily (Cat 5), and Irene (Cat 2). Dennis led to 88 deaths and $2.5 billion in damage (USD 2005), mainly in the Florida Panhandle, while Irene caused 17 deaths and left a $1-billion trail of destruction from the Windward Islands to northeast Mexico and southern Texas.
By comparison, 2020 so far has brought just two hurricanes, Hanna and Isaias. Both were Category 1 storms.
What’s more concerning is that steering currents this year have been favoring U.S. landfalls. Five of the nine named storms so far have struck the United States, making this the earliest in any season that so many U.S. landfalls have occurred. (The old record was August 18, 1916.) The nation’s damage toll is also distressingly high for mid-August, including more than $4 billion from Isaias’s recent rampage up the East Coast with widespread high winds. Isaias caused more than 6 million power outages and spawned an estimated 37 tornadoes, including the longest-tracked tornado in Delaware history: 29 miles from Dover to Middletown.