tampabay.com

Season off to early - not bad - start

By CURTIS KRUEGER
Published May 10, 2007


The first named storm of 2007 is moving toward Florida's east coast three weeks before hurricane season even starts. That raises plenty of questions:

Should we expect a busy hurricane season because Subtropical Storm Andrea formed in early May?

No. Andrea is not a hurricane or even a tropical storm, and it "has absolutely no bearing on what will happen for this particular season, " said Dennis Feltgen, meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center. Jeff Masters, a founder of weatherunderground.com, says early-season storms don't help predict the number of hurricanes later.

What is a "subtropical storm?"

It's a hybrid, with some characteristics of tropical storms. One key difference: Andrea's center - the "eye" of the storm - is wider, less defined and cooler than a hurricane's. And it won't generate enough thunderstorm activity to create hurricane-force winds, Masters said. The highest sustained winds were about 45 mph, which is in the range of tropical storms.

Did Andrea help us or hurt us with the thick smoke that blew into the Tampa Bay area earlier this week?

Both. On Tuesday morning, winds from the north carried smoke all the way from wildfires along the Georgia border and North Florida to the bay area. Andrea was too far away to interfere. On Wednesday, Andrea moved closer to Florida and disrupted that pattern, so winds crossed the state from west to east.

Could rain from this storm douse the wildfires?

Gov. Charlie Crist hopes so. "We need to continue to pray for rain, that's very helpful for Florida, " he said. "And hopefully, Andrea will help us." But forecasters aren't so sure. It's not generating a lot of rain and is expected to drop less than half an inch in most coastal areas, according to the hurricane center.

How will Andrea affect the wildfires?

The rain will help some, but winds could actually spread some of the fires.

What is the forecast for Andrea?

The Hurricane Center says there is a weakening trend, and the storm is expected to fizzle along the coast within about three days.

Is Florida's east coast bracing for major damage?

No. "Andrea is a weak system right now. We do not expect any major headaches from it, " said the Hurricane Center's Feltgen.

Since Andrea's early appearance doesn't indicate a busy hurricane season, can we relax about hurricane season?

Not at all. Early forecasts call for a busy season with as many as 17 named storms including nine hurricanes. The Hurricane Center will issue its predictions on May 22 for hurricane season, which runs June 1 to Nov. 30.

Times staff writer Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report, which used information from the Associated Press.

Fast Facts:

2007 hurricane names

Andrea

Barry

Chantal

Dean

Erin

Felix

Gabrielle

Humberto

Ingrid

Jerry

Karen

Lorenzo

Melissa

Noel

Olga

Pablo

Rebekah

Sebastien

Tanya

Van

Wendy