Hurricane Alert Issued for Season's First Named Storm

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Alberto is expected to bring 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain to Florida, and some parts of the state could get as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters).

The rainfall could help ease drought conditions and reduce the chance of forest fires in Florida. But the deluge might cause flash flooding in some places along its path, Brennan said.

Start of an Active Season?

Alberto began Saturday as a tropical depression in the Caribbean Sea and was upgraded to a tropical storm the following day.

Alberto is typical of early-season tropical storms, Brennan says, which often form in the Caribbean, pass through the Yucatán Channel into the Gulf of Mexico, and then curve toward the Florida peninsula.

Alberto's formation has reminded jittery coastal residents of last year's unprecedented hurricane season, when a record 28 named storms formed.

But Brennan says it's too early in the 2006 season to make any predictions based on Alberto.

"You can't really say much about the way the season is going to go based on any one storm," he said. "The biggest thing is that people need to be prepared anywhere along the coast."

Long-range hurricane forecasters have predicted that 2006 will be another in a series of above-average hurricane seasons (read "Hurricane Forecast: "Very Active" Season, Five Major Storms Expected").

As many as 16 named storms could produce 6 major hurricanes, scientists say. An average hurricane season has about ten tropical storms, six hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.

If the prediction for an above-average season is accurate, it would continue a trend that started in 1995. Meteorologists think hurricane seasons have alternating cycles of active and less-active periods.

The active cycles can last 20 to 40 years and are thought to be triggered by warmer sea surface temperatures, caused by fluctuations in the salt content of the water.

When salt content is higher—as it is now in the Atlantic—the water is warmer and more hurricanes form.

Willie Drye is the author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day hurricane of 1935, published by National Geographic.

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