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Tropical Storm Gonzalo forecast to become 2020's first Atlantic hurricane of the year

The storm is forecast to bring gusty winds and tropical downpours to the Windward Islands this weekend, and it's not the only game in town.
Tropical Storm Gonzalo, churning toward the Caribbean, is expected to strengthen into the first Atlantic hurricane by Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.RAMMB/NOAA/NESDIS / AFP - Getty Images

Tropical Storm Gonzalo formed Wednesday morning, making it the seventh named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season and breaking the record for earliest "G" named storm on record.

This is on the heels of 2020 already setting records for the earliest "C," "E" and "F" named storms.

The average date for the seventh named storm is Sept. 16, so this formed nearly two months ahead of the average storm. The previous record was Tropical Storm Gert on July 24, 2005.

Wednesday morning, the storm was more than 1,200 miles east of the Windward Islands. As of 11 a.m. ET, it had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph and was moving west at 14 mph. The tropical storm is forecast to gain strength over open waters and is expected to become a hurricane by Saturday, making it the first hurricane of the Atlantic's 2020 season. As of Wednesday afternoon, no tropical alerts were in effect but residents in the Windward islands and the eastern Caribbean should monitor Gonzalo’s progress as it could bring gusty winds and heavy downpours to those islands this weekend.

Beyond the weekend, there is considerable uncertainty in both the track of the storm and its intensity.

Gonzalo isn't the only storm to keep an eye on this week.

There is another tropical disturbance, designated Invest 91-L, and it's closer to the United States, located in the Gulf of Mexico. It's currently an area of showers and thunderstorms, and the National Hurricane Center is giving it a 70 percent chance of development in four days and an 80 percent chance of development in five days; it could become a tropical depression late Wednesday or sometime Thursday. Should it intensify into a tropical storm, watches and warnings could be required by later Wednesday for portions of the Texas and the Louisiana coasts. Regardless of any development, these areas will need to prepare for tropical downpours, gusty winds and high surf.

Should it develop and become a tropical storm, the next name on the list is Hanna. Just like Cristobal, Edouard, Fay and Gonzalo, that would make it the earliest "H" named storm on record with the previous record being Harvey on Aug. 3, 2005.

Currently, 2020 is ahead of the record-setting 2005 Atlantic hurricane season (the year of Hurricane Katrina) which was the first and the only year that had to use the Greek alphabet due to having so many named tropical cyclones. While 2020 is ahead of the 2005 pace, there's one major and important difference, according to Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University specializing in Atlantic basin seasonal hurricane forecasts.

"While 2020 has beaten 2005 to the seventh Atlantic named storm, by this time in 2005, we had already had three hurricanes and two major hurricanes (Dennis and Emily). None of the named storms of 2020 so far have reached hurricane strength," he said.

In the Pacific Ocean basin Wednesday, Douglas became the first hurricane of the Eastern Pacific season and is headed toward Hawaii. The current forecast indicates it could affect the island chain as a strong tropical storm by Sunday or Monday.

All of these tropical cyclones are a clear indication the tropics are heating up as we head toward the peak hurricane months of August and September, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

Those located in coastal areas should review a hurricane plan, prepare a hurricane kit (make sure you include masks, disinfectants and hand sanitizer) and be familiar with hurricane evacuation routes and plans, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends.

The current outlook for an active Atlantic hurricane season is especially worrisome and will be more challenging due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so early preparation is key, according to data from NOAA.