January, a winter month in the northern hemisphere, is a time when we are usually talking about snowstorms. Nevertheless, Hurricane Alex, the first named storm of the 2016 Atlantic Hurricane season has officially formed.
According to the National Hurricane Center, Alex is the first Atlantic hurricane to form in January since 1938. With sustained winds of 85 mph, it is the second strongest January hurricane on record. Hurricane Alice, which formed at the end December 1954 and lasted through early January 1955, had winds that peaked at 90 mph.
Alex transitioned from a sub-tropical storm – a storm that has both tropical and non-tropical characteristics – into a fully tropical system on Wednesday and then strengthened into a category-one hurricane on Thursday morning. This type of rapid intensification is usually associated with the storm moving over very warm ocean waters. In this case, however, the sea surface temperatures in the area were above average, but just barely warm enough to support tropical development. So, according to NOAA, Alex likely got an extra boost from an unstable atmosphere. The wide temperature spread between the warm surface air and a pocket of unusually cold air aloft encouraged convection and helped strengthen the warm core of this off-season storm.
Alex is currently located 490 miles south of the Azores and moving north-northeast at about 20 mph. It is expected to bring strong winds, heavy rain, and storm surge flooding to that archipelago over the next 24 hours.
The Atlantic hurricane season traditionally runs from June 1 to November 30th.