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Hurricane “Alex” becomes the strongest January hurricane in Atlantic since records began in 1851


Subtropical Storm "Alex" formed in the far eastern Atlantic Ocean at 21:00 UTC on January 13, 2016, and intensified into a hurricane at 15:00 UTC on January 14. The occurrence of the system during this time of the year is very unusual, as only four known storms have formed in January since the records began in 1851. The hurricane is expected to affect the Azores during the night of January 14 to 15 with strong winds and abundant rainfall. National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued a hurricane and a tropical storm warning for the islands at 15:00 UTC.

An extratropical low pressure system that developed in the Atlantic on January 8 has now officially strengthened into a hurricane. The system is the first named storm of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, which is regarded quite unusual for this time of the year, as the season usually runs from June to November. But, that's not all.

Hurricane "Alex" is now:

  • The first named storm of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season
  • The strongest January hurricane in Atlantic since records began in 1851
  • The first named storm (tropical or subtropical) to form in the Atlantic Ocean in January since Subtropical Storm "One" in 1978 
  • The second hurricane formation in January, with the other being Hurricane "One" in 1938
  • The second hurricane to exist in Atlantic during January since Hurricane "Alice" in 1955 (Alice became hurricane on December 31, 1955 and remained hurricane into early January 1955)
  • The fourth known tropical or subtropical storm to form in January since records began.

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This animation of GOES-East satellite imagery from January 10 to 14 shows the development of Hurricane "Alex" in the Atlantic Ocean. Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

Hurricane "Alex" moving towards the Azores, January 14, 2016. Image credit: NASA Aqua/MODIS

Hurricane "Alex" moving towards the Azores, January 14, 2016. Image credit: NASA Terra/MODIS

Alex was located about 790 km (490 miles) south of the Faial Island in the central Azores, and moving north-northeastward at 31 km/h (20 mph) on January 14, at 15:00 UTC, according to NHC. The system was packing maximum sustained winds of 140 km/h (85 mph) – Category 1 hurricane – with gust speed reaching 166.7 km/h (103.6 mph). Minimum central pressure was estimated at 981 hPa.

Hurricane "Alex", January 14, 2016, 14:00 UTC. Image credit: UW-CIMSS

Winds of hurricane force extend up to 35 km (25 miles) from the system's center while the tropical storm force winds extend up to 240 km (150 miles) outward.

The hurricane is expected to turn northwards and speed up during the afternoon of January 14 and move near or over portions of the Azores on the morning of January 15. Little strength fluctuations are forecast over the next 24 hours.

On January 13, 2016, GPM saw rain in a few powerful storms was measured falling at a rate of over 94 mm (3.7 inches) per hour and cloud tops reaching heights of almost 12.5 km (7.8 miles) in System 90L (now Alex). Image credit: NASA/JAXA/SSAI, Hal Pierce

Tropical storm force winds will start to hit portions of the Azores by tonight. Hurricane conditions are expected to spread over the central Azores by early January 15. NHC warns winds could be up to 30% stronger atop and on the wind-facing sides of hills and mountains while in some other elevated locations wind speeds can be even greater.

Hurricane "Alex" will most likely produce total rain accumulations of 76.2 to 127 mm (3 to 5 inches) over the Azores through January 15. Locally isolated portions could receive up to 177.8 mm (7 inches). These amounts of precipitation are capable of producing life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Hurricane "Alex" 3-day forecast track. Image credit: NWS/NOAA

NHC warned the system would produce a dangerous storm surge that will induce significant coastal flooding near and to the east of the hurricane's center. Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.

The Azores Meteorological Service has issued a Hurricane Warning for the islands of Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Graciosa, and Terceira in the central Azores, and a Tropical Storm Warning for the islands of Sao Miguel and Santa Maria in the eastern Azores.

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Featured image: Hurricane "Alex" moving towards the Azores, January 14, 2016. Image credit: NASA Terra/MODIS

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