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First ever double hurricane could hit the Gulf of Mexico

A map shows where at least tropical storm-force winds are expected in the coming days as the two storm systems approach one another in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical Storm Laura's winds are seen approaching from the east.
A map shows where at least tropical storm-force winds are expected in the coming days as the two storm systems approach one another in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical Storm Laura's winds are seen approaching from the east.
(Image: © NHC/NOAA)

Next week for the first time on record, two hurricanes could hit  the Gulf of Mexico at the same time.

Twice before, in 1959 and 1933, two tropical storms have entered the Gulf at the same time. But never before have both been hurricanes.

It might not go that way. Only one of the storm systems has yet strengthened into a tropical storm — a dangerous cyclone, but not yet a hurricane. The other remains a tropical depression, and its future is still unclear. But forecast models have suggested the possibility since at least Thursday (Aug. 20), and the storms are still following the path that would lead to double Gulf hurricanes.

Related: The 20 costliest, most destructive hurricanes to hit the US

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has issued tropical storm warnings across much of the Caribbean for Tropical Storm Laura, which reached tropical storm strength today (Aug. 21), meaning it has wind speeds between 39-73 mph (63 and 118 km/h). It's currently east of Puerto Rico and early forecast tracks show it whirling over that U.S. territory, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Haiti, the Dominan Republic, Cuba, Florida, and then into the Gulf over the course of the weekend and early next week.

An image offers rough predictions of when Laura might bring its first tropical storm-force winds to each region.

An image offers rough predictions of when Laura might bring its first tropical storm-force winds to each region. (Image credit: NOAA/NHC)

 

Tropical depression 14, expected to take the name Marco if it becomes a tropical storm, is moving more slowly. Forecast tracks show it heading north from its current location near Honduras, straight up the Gulf. The NHC has issued tropical storm warnings for parts of Honduras and southeastern Mexico, and a hurricane watch for much of eastern Mexico.

An image offers rough predictions of when Marco might bring its first tropical storm-force winds to each region.

An image offers rough predictions of when Marco might bring its first tropical storm-force winds to each region. (Image credit: NOAA/NHC)

Early forecast maps of interacting winds from the two storms show them overlapping in the Gulf. And meteorologists have said it's still too early to predict exactly how the two storms will behave, particularly if they begin to interact strongly.  

One possibility is a significant "Fujiwhara effect." According to the NHC, that's a term meteorologists use for when two tropical cyclones near each other and start to "dance around their common center."

A series of images taken between July 25 and August 1, 2017 shows hurricanes Irwin and Hilary circling each other and merging due to the Fujiwhara effect.

A series of images taken between July 25 and August 1, 2017 shows hurricanes Irwin and Hilary circling each other and merging in the Pacific Ocean due to the Fujiwhara effect. (Image credit: GOES-16/NOAA/NHC)

It's unclear at this point how that would impact the movements of the storms in the Gulf, though The Washington Post reports that one possibility is a delayed arrival for Marco, giving it more time to strengthen over warm water. 

The 2020 hurricane season has been extraordinarily busy, with Laura already a record setter today (Aug. 21) as the earliest "L" storm ever. (Tropical cyclones are named in alphabetical order as they achieve tropical storm strength.) This year also saw the earliest C, E, F, G, H, I, J and K storms, as Houston-based meteorologist Matt Lanza noted on Twitter. If tropical depression 14 becomes Marco, it will be the earliest M storm on record. (These records date back to the late 19th Century, and include storms from the era when tropical storms were numbered but not named.)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that as climate change warms the oceans, strong hurricanes are likely to become more frequent than they were in previous years.

Originally published on Live Science.

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  • Lovethrust
    The good news is they are pretty weak as hurricanes go and they don’t seem to be on a course to combine either unless the fujiwhatchamacallit causes them to merge.
    Their interaction should be fascinating to watch.
    Reply
  • Helio
    I'm puzzled how a leading hurricane gains little energy over the Gulf's warm waters, but one following it could be quite large?

    The 2nd, Laura, appears to follow almost along the same path, so why wouldn't a lot of the water's hurricane-giving energy not have been expended with the first hurricane, Marco?

    I get that the 2nd, I assume, may have a much stronger low pressure cell driving it, but won't waters that are now cooler do less to, literally, stir things up?
    Reply