February 6, 2023

Tropical Storm Earl formed late on Friday east of the Northern Leeward Islands, becoming the fifth named storm of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season.

The storm, which carried winds of 40 miles per hour, was expected to dump 2 to 4 inches of rain over the Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico through the weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center. Some areas could see up to 6 inches of rain.

The storm, which could also bring with it wind gusts and flooding, was about 185 miles east of the Northern Leeward Islands and moving west northwest at 14 m.p.h., forecasters said.

A storm is given a name after it reaches wind speeds of at least 39 miles per hour.

Earl’s formation comes after a relatively quiet start to the Atlantic hurricane season, with just four other named storms. There were no named storms in the Atlantic during August, the first time that has happened since 1997.

Tropical Storm Alex, which formed on June 5, was the first named storm of what is expected to be an “above normal” hurricane season, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If that prediction comes true, 2022 would be the seventh consecutive year with an above-normal season.

Tropical Storm Bonnie followed in early July. It made landfall in Nicaragua before making a rare jump into the Pacific Ocean. That same week, Tropical Storm Colin formed off the coast of South Carolina, bringing wet weather to the region over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Weeks of relative calm followed.

The fourth named storm, Danielle, was named Thursday before it was upgraded to a hurricane a day later. It’s nearly stationary and expected to meander over the open Atlantic for the next couple of days.

In early August, scientists at NOAA issued an updated forecast for the rest of the season, which still called for an above-normal level of activity. In it, they predicted the season — which runs through Nov. 30 — could see 14 to 20 named storms, with six to 10 turning into hurricanes that sustain winds of at least 74 miles per hour. Three to five of those could strengthen into what NOAA calls major hurricanes — Category 3 or stronger — with winds of at least 111 m.p.h.

Last year, there were 21 named storms, after a record-breaking 30 in 2020. For the past two years, meteorologists have exhausted the list of names used to identify storms during the Atlantic hurricane season, an occurrence that has happened only one other time, in 2005.

The links between hurricanes and climate change have become clearer with each passing year. Data shows that hurricanes have become stronger worldwide during the past four decades. A warming planet can expect stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — though the overall number of storms could drop, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.

Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.

McKenna Oxenden and Vimal Patel contributed reporting.

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