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Weather Underground Inc. | Updates on this storm

Michael, in Atlantic, becomes first major hurricane of season as forecasters watch system in gulf

The 2012 hurricane season is proving to be one of the busiest in history.

On Thursday, about midway through the season, the year's first major hurricane formed in the central Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Michael is the seventh hurricane and 13th named storm of the six-month season.

The only other years that saw seven hurricanes form earlier were more than a century ago — in 1886 and 1893, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Michael, a Category 3 storm with winds of about 115 mph and higher gusts, is a relatively small storm with hurricane-force winds extending only about 15 miles from its center. It was moving west in the central Atlantic and is not considered a threat to land.

In Bermuda, tourists postponed holidays and residents stocked up on emergency supplies Thursday as a stalled Hurricane Leslie spun over open ocean south of the wealthy British Atlantic territory.

The National Hurricane Center said Leslie was expected to intensify today and begin to drift north. Its center was forecast to pass to the east of Bermuda on Sunday morning, possibly as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of nearly 105 mph.

Hurricane forecasters expect as many as 17 storms to form before the season ends in November. Part of the reason, experts said, is a weak and slow-going El Niño.

El Niño, an atmospheric phenomenon defined by the development of warm surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean and an eastward wind shear, should set in this month, according to the Climate Prediction Center.

Although the frequency of storm formation may persist, the storms become less likely to prosper as El Niño grows stronger.

This weak El Niño might explain why hurricanes Michael and Leslie are both steering clear of the United States, hurricane forecaster Todd Kimberlain said.

It also doesn't bode well for storms forming in the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico later in the season, he said.

On Thursday, forecasters were watching a low-pressure system hovering in the north-central gulf that had a 40 percent chance of becoming a tropical storm in the next two days, according to the hurricane center.

The storm was drifting southward — straight into dry air and against unfavorable wind shear.

If it doesn't develop soon, Kimberlain said, it likely won't develop at all.

It would be named Nadine and could drift over North Florida by the weekend, some computer models show. But by the weekend, the system could get scooped up by a storm system headed down to the Gulf Coast from the Midwest.

This means the state will see rain, at the very least, weather experts said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804.

Weather Underground Inc. | Updates on this storm

Michael, in Atlantic, becomes first major hurricane of season as forecasters watch system in gulf 09/06/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 7, 2012 9:18am]
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