- Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center says a high (60 percent( chance that a tropical depression could form out of that patch of showers and storms seen off of Africa's west coast. (NOAA/GOES water-vapor map from Monday, Sept. 19, 2011)
With two and a half months still ahead in the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, the number of big storms that have risen from the ocean and hurtled toward the U.S. East Coast is already above average. There have been 14 named tropical storms this year, whereas the average year incurs 11 named storms.
The weather has been on par or underwhelming in other respects. Only two hurricanes, Katia and Irene, obtained Category 3 strength, which would make this an average year for major hurricanes if no more appear. (Fingers crossed.) There have been three Atlantic hurricanes, total, which is far below the huge outbreak of seven to 10 hurricanes that government forecasters had predicted earlier this year.
But that could certainly change as the season grinds toward its end on Nov. 30. Here's one system that the old salts at the National Hurricane Center are monitoring. Located about 1,450 miles east of the Windward Islands of the West Indies, this wet spot of showers and thunderstorms is showing signs that it could swell into something more spectacular very soon. The NHC gives it a "high chance" of becoming a tropical depression in the next two days, and from there on the system could grow into Tropical Storm Ophelia.
It is too early to predict where the storm could head if it starts to bulk up. Tropical storms this year have tended, as they often do, to shy away from the East Coast. Take a glimpse of this 2011 storm-track map (blues are weaker systems, yellows and oranges stronger ones; here is a full key):
Here's a laaaaaaaaarge shot of the damp patch in the Atlantic that is causing consternation among NHC forecasters. The photo was taken today by NASA's Terra satellite: