Tropical Storm Emily formed in the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday, becoming the latest named storm of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season.
The National Hurricane Center estimates the storm had sustained winds of 50 miles per hour. Tropical disturbances that have sustained winds of 39 m.p.h. earn a name. Once winds reach 74 m.p.h., a storm becomes a hurricane, and at 111 m.p.h. it becomes a major hurricane.
Emily formed about 1,000 miles from the Cabo Verde Islands, which are west of Senegal, and is moving west-northwest at 10 m.p.h. The storm has most likely already reached its peak intensity, forecasters said, and was not expected to have an impact on land.
Emily is the season’s fifth named storm but the sixth tropical cyclone to reach tropical storm strength this year.
The National Hurricane Center announced in May that it had reassessed a storm that formed off the Northeastern United States in mid-January and determined that it was a subtropical storm, making it the Atlantic’s first cyclone of the year.
However, the storm was not retroactively given a name, making Arlene, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico on June 2, the first named Atlantic storm this year.
Bret and Cindy soon followed, the first time since 1968 that there were two named storms in the Atlantic in June at the same time, according to Philip Klotzbach, a researcher at Colorado State University who studies hurricanes.
Last month, Don became the season’s first hurricane, before quickly losing strength. The Atlantic hurricane season started on June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
In late May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that there would be 12 to 17 named storms this year, a “near-normal” amount. On Aug. 10, NOAA officials revised their estimate upward, to 14 to 21 storms.
There were 14 named storms last year, after two extremely busy Atlantic hurricane seasons in which forecasters ran out of names and had to resort to backup lists. (A record 30 named storms took place in 2020.)
This year features an El Niño pattern, which arrived in June. The intermittent climate phenomenon can have wide-ranging effects on weather around the world, and it typically impedes the number of Atlantic hurricanes.
In the Atlantic, El Niño increases the amount of wind shear, or the change in wind speed and direction from the ocean or land surface into the atmosphere. Hurricanes need a calm environment to form, and the instability caused by increased wind shear makes those conditions less likely.
(El Niño has the opposite effect in the Pacific, reducing the amount of wind shear.)
At the same time, this year’s heightened sea surface temperatures pose a number of threats, including the ability to supercharge storms.
That unusual confluence of factors has made solid storm predictions more difficult.
“Stuff just doesn’t feel right,” Mr. Klotzbach said after NOAA released its updated forecast in August. “There’s just a lot of kind of screwy things that we haven’t seen before.”
There is solid consensus among scientists that hurricanes are becoming more powerful because of climate change. Although there might not be more named storms overall, the likelihood of major hurricanes is increasing.
Climate change is also affecting the amount of rain that storms can produce. In a warming world, the air can hold more moisture, which means a named storm can hold and produce more rainfall, like Hurricane Harvey did in Texas in 2017, when some areas received more than 40 inches of rain in less than 48 hours.
Researchers have also found that storms have slowed down, sitting over areas for longer, over the past few decades.
When a storm slows down over water, the amount of moisture the storm can absorb increases. When the storm slows over land, the amount of rain that falls over a single location increases. In 2019, for example, Hurricane Dorian slowed to a crawl over the northwestern Bahamas, resulting in a total rainfall of 22.84 inches in Hope Town during the storm.
Other potential effects of climate change include greater storm surge, rapid intensification and broader reach of tropical systems.
Amanda Holpuch contributed reporting.