A rare subtropical storm is brewing in the Atlantic. Here’s what to know

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  • A new subtropical storm, Owen, may cause havoc along the Atlantic this week.
  • A low-pressure system is causing ‘a large area of showers and thunderstorms,’ hurricane center says.
  • ‘There’s a 50-50 chance we could see a subtropical storm,’ a hurricane center official estimates.

A subtropical storm? In December? The first in nearly 10 years? And its name could be Owen?

Yes, even though peak hurricane season might be over, there is a rare subtropical storm slowly forming in the Atlantic Ocean this week — the first in almost a decade.  

The National Hurricane Center issued a special tropical weather outlook Monday as a low-pressure system continued “producing disorganized showers and thunderstorms” across the central Atlantic Ocean.

Where is the storm now? 

As of Wednesday morning, the system was located about 900 miles northeast of the northern Leeward Islands of the Caribbean.

Will it become a hurricane or tropical storm? 

“This activity has become somewhat better organized this morning, though frontal features remain attached to the low,” the hurricane center said. “Environmental conditions appear marginally conducive for development and a subtropical or tropical storm could form within the next day or so.”

Forecasters say after the storm develops, it’s likely to move northeast and dissipate. Meteorologists across the board believe the storm is unlikely to reach hurricane-level strength, though it could become either a subtropical or tropical storm. 

SUBTROPICAL STORM DEFINED?:How is it different from a tropical or extratropical system?

What is a subtropical storm?

A subtropical storm “typically has a large, cloud-free center of circulation, with very heavy thunderstorm activity in a band removed at least 100 miles from the center,” that could also bring strong winds, according to the National Weather Service.

By contrast, a tropical storm is a low-pressure area with heavy rains and with wind speeds sustained winds from 39 to 73 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service. When a storm reaches this strength, it’s assigned a name. 

Meaning, this storm brewing in the Atlantic has some work to do if it wants to be named Owen. 

“This tropical system is expected to be large, spanning hundreds of miles. As a result, wind and rough seas can extend well away from the center of the storm,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Adam Douty.

So, there’s a chance it could intensify?

“There’s a 50-50 chance,” said John Cangialosi, acting branch chief of the hurricane specialist unit at the National Hurricane Center. “The best window is between Wednesday and Thursday.”

If or when the storm does strengthen, “it will be very short-lived,” Cangialosi added.

Will Owen impact the US? 

The potential arrival of Owen, the next name on the list, comes after the Atlantic had just overcome Hurricane Nicole, a late deadly storm that became a Category I and led to evacuation orders along Florida’s east coast in November.

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But there’s a slim window for Owen to form and the storm doesn’t pose an immediate threat to land, the hurricane center forecasts. 

Areas most likely to be affected by the storm as it envelopes the Atlantic would be Bermuda and the Azores, an island chain located to the west of Portugal, said Courtney Travis, an AccuWeather senior meteorologist.

But it’s possible that it could make it as far west as Florida’s Atlantic coast if the storm becomes strong enough, Travis said.

Even if the storm doesn’t affect land, it could still potentially be impactful as with rough seas that could impact shipping routes, AccuWeather reports.

How rare would a storm be in December?

Even if it doesn’t pose a dire threat to land, the possible phenomena of a subtropical storm is still an infrequent phenomenon that’s piqued the interest of forecasters, said Mark Bourassa, associate director for the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University. 

“We’re just excited about it because it is so rare and unusual for this time of year,” Bourassa said.

The last storm to become subtropical this late in a calendar year was an unnamed system in 2013, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

And Cangialosi at the hurricane center doubts that Owen it will make any significant impact.

“There will be no real consequences,” Cangialosi said. 

How many storms have been named in 2022? 

If the current low-pressure area develops into a tropical or subtropical system, it would be named the Owen.

So far this year, there have been 14 named storms — Alex, Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Gaston, Hermine, Ian, Julia, Karl, Martin and Nicole.

Three of those storms made landfall on the U.S. mainland: Colin, Ian and Nicole. Meanwhile, Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico. 

In 1953, the hurricane center started using female names for Atlantic storms. The names are decided “through a strict procedure” by the World Meteorological Organization, based in Geneva. 

Male names were added in 1979, and since then, male and female names are alternated through the alphabet. There are no names that begin with Q, U, X, Y or Z. 

A storm gets a name when it has sustained winds of 39 mph, meaning when it becomes a tropical storm. A storm becomes a hurricane when it reaches winds up to 74 mph.

Forecasters say we should know in the next day or so if this latest storm will actually get a name and we need to watch for Owen.

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