Update 4:45 p.m.: A tropical wave creeping off the coast of Africa was given a 40 percent chance of developing into a disturbance over the next five days by National Hurricane Center forecasters.
The cluster of thunderstorms is about 550 miles southeast of the Cabo Verde Islands and is moving west at between 15 and 20 mph.
Previous story: The National Hurricane Center is watching an area of storms off the coast of Africa for possible development after a quiet month with no tropical cyclone development
It’s the first time this hurricane season that a cluster of thunderstorms coming off Africa has been identified as a possible tropical system.
On Tuesday, a pocket of air free of Saharan dust popped up off the coast of Africa and that’s just where this area of storms developed. A thick Saharan air layer had dominated much of the East Tropical Atlantic this month, squelching storm activity.
Forecasters are giving the cluster of storms a 20 percent chance of development over the next five days. It has a 10 percent chance of development over the next 48 hours as it moves west at about 15 to 20 mph.
Still, that’s significant considering how quiet July has been. Nothing has been identified in the Atlantic basin this month, after a busy early season.
The 2016 hurricane season, which is expected to be near average to slightly above, skidded to a breakneck stop after the three tropical storms bloomed back-to-back beginning May 28 with the birth of Bonnie.
But since Danielle limped into Central Mexico on June 20 — dissipating less than 24 hours later — there has been nary a peep out of the Atlantic basin.
And while July is traditionally a slow month for tropical cyclone activity, there’s something going on in the atmosphere helping to smooth things over like a gritty layer of icing on a cake.
Ed Vallee, a meteorologist with Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather, said an unusually strong high-pressure system in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean has been kicking up plumes of Saharan dust.
“There are plenty of tropical waves moving off Africa right now,” Vallee said. “We aren’t at a loss for energy coming off the continent. It’s the fact that there is this dry Saharan air layer.”
Jeff Masters, meteorologist and co-founder of Weather Underground, said he expects the system – now named Invest 96L – to continue to develop through Friday.
After that, the future is less clear. Steering winds put it over cooler waters with a thicker layer of Saharan air, which would limit organization.
“These unfavorable conditions would stymie any development of 96L, but forecasts of dry air and wind shear this far into the future are unreliable,” Masters wrote this morning in his blog.
The area off Africa is typically where storms develop in August as sea surface temperatures heat up along the African coast.
But AccuWeather lead hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski said last week there was a chance of something bubbling off the coast by the end of the month.
“Any system that tries to get going over the western Atlantic late in the month and into early August will likely struggle with a vast amount of dry air and disruptive winds,” Kottlowski said.