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Potential tropical cyclone explained

NOAA image of Potential Tropical Cyclone 3 in the Gulf

What on earth is a potential tropical cyclone?

It’s a new product by the National Hurricane Center this year, so most meteorologists like myself are learning as we go along. The first one was issued on Sunday June 18th. The NHC labelled the strong tropical wave in the Central Atlantic, Potential Tropical Cyclone Two. The reason it wasn’t One is that we had Subtropical Depression One, which ultimately became Tropical Storm Arlene, in April.

But here’s the deal, it still wasn’t a storm yet. It was just a tropical disturbance but it is expected to bring the threat of tropical storm or hurricane conditions to land areas within 48 hours. Basically, this gives NHC a chance to give the public more lead time.

Why can forecasters at NHC do this now? Well, advances in forecasting have made the prediction of these systems much more accurate and the ultimate goal is to protect life and property.

Once a tropical wave is labeled a “potential tropical cyclone”, there are several products put out including a five-day track, intensity forecast and initial wind field.

Once it is upgraded to a tropical depression, it will maintain the same number. If it reaches tropical storm status, it will get the next name on the list.

Now fast forward to 24 hours later and POTENTIAL Tropical Cyclone Two is now Tropical Storm Bret. It will be no threat to the Lowcountry as it is headed toward the southern Windward Islands and the east coast of Venezuela.

But there is now POTENTIAL Tropical Cyclone Three in the Gulf. This is expected to become Tropical Storm Cindy within the next few days. Landfall is expected along the western Gulf coast, more than likely between Louisiana and Texas. This system may help to send some moisture our way and when combined with a stalled frontal boundary will mean numerous showers and storms. The bottom line is no direct impacts are expected here in the Lowcountry.

This article is an entry in More than Meteorology, a weather blog written by certified broadcast meteorologist Sonya Stevens. To view more More than Meteorology blog entries, click here.

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