What’s a 'Potential Tropical Cyclone?' Takeaways from the season’s first storm
Potential tropical cyclones can still produce life-threatening flooding and other weather hazards
The first storm of the 2022 Hurricane Season came with a name the public may not easily recognize. While “Alex” was the first name on this year’s list, the storm didn’t earn its name until after passed over the state of Florida and entered the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, Florida residents were warned of Potential Tropical Cyclone (PTC) One. But storms in this classification, not often used, doesn’t necessarily make it any less dangerous than a named storm.
“We got to get folks to not focus too much on what it is, but more on what those impacts are going to be,” said Dan Brown, senior hurricane specialist and warning coordination meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center. Though not a tropical storm or hurricane in name, potential tropical cyclones can still produce life-threatening flooding and other weather hazards. “I think we still need to help communicate the meaning of the term,” Brown said, “it’s a system that’s likely to impact your area. It’s not just the wind impact, but the rain impact that’s important.” Brown said “low-end” storms like Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 and Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019 because it struck major metropolitan areas with copious amounts of rain.
PTC One never got to form into Tropical Storm Alex before it hit Florida, but it still posed hazards to the state leading up to its arrival. “A potential tropical cyclone is essentially a disturbance,” he said, “but it has the potential to bring tropical storm force winds to land within the 48-hour watch period,” he said. Before 2017, the National Hurricane Center did not have a way to issue watches or warnings until a tropical depression or tropical storm had formed. “Looking back at recent history,” Brown said, “we’ve seen systems that have impacted land within a day or two.” So, to fill the gap, the potential tropical storm classification was created. “It provides us the ability to go ahead and warn people,” Brown said. In this storm’s case, according to Brown, there was a strong wind shear that were blowing the thunderstorm activity away from where the center of the system was trying to form. “So, it never really gained enough organization before its approach to Florida,” Brown explained.
However, PTC One did bring hazards typical of hurricanes and tropical storms to the state. “It doesn’t take a tropical storm to produce flooding,” Brown said. According to Florida Storms Meteorologist Justin Ballard, PTC One dumped close to a foot of rain in South Florida. The storm left thousands of people without power through the weekend and stranded vehicles in the streets. Miami-Dade County even issued a no-swim advisory in the days following the storm due to unsafe waters.
Looking forward, Brown said PTC One is a good reminder that hurricane season is here and to use this time to prepare. “We may have some gaps in the season, but as we get to August and September, that’s when we really need to be on high alert,” he said.