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ALBERTO | A Strange Life

The strangeness of Alberto: Making history over Great Lakes

Erin Wenckstern

Sunday, June 3, 2018, 1:48 PM - The strange life of subtropical storm Alberto is one you have to appreciate, even if you aren't weather fanatics like us. Its impacts were felt all the way to the Great Lakes, after it held onto life to make history.

Our story begins back on May 25th when the National Hurricane Center announced to the world that our first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was born: Alberto.

In its early life, the storm drifted across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall on the Florida panhandle on Monday May 28th as a subtropical storm.


But wait, what is a subtropical storm?

The key difference is how the storm forms and maintains its strength. You can think of "subtropical" as "sort of" tropical. Typically, tropical systems gain their energy from warm oceans waters and the thunderstorms surrounding them. But in the case of subtropical storms, they also have colder air aloft and strong winds, much like a classic low pressure system, that drives a lot of the thunderstorm convection. In comparison, tropical storms are warm inside and out, while subtropical still carry a hint of cold from their early upbringing.

(TRAGIC NEWS: Two journalists killed in subtropical storm Alberto coverage)

Eventually Alberto did blossom and receive its tropical characteristics, being reclassified as a tropical depression. However, in a strange twist of events this happened over land... in Tennessee... over 24 hours later! Now that's not something that happens very often. Sultry ocean waters to tropical systems are the equivalent of sugar to any candy fiend: It sustains and completes them. As the tropical systems move over land, the supply is gone and dramatically weaken.

But Alberto didn't stop there. It continued on what would become a historic track into the Great Lakes, reaching Lake Michigan as a tropical depression on Wednesday May 30th, all the while looking more impressive than it did over the Gulf.

Image on left: Subtropical Storm Alberto at landfall in Florida. Image on the right: Tropical Depression Alberto over Indiana. Courtesy: NASA MODIS

According to Brian McNoldy, a Senior Research Associate at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School, Alberto is the first tropical depression to reach Lake Huron before June 1st since records began 1851!

Tracks of the 11 other tropical/post-tropical cyclones that passed over Lake Huron since 1851, none of which occurred before June 1st. Courtesy: Brian McNoldy.

So why did it happen? Dr. Marshall Shepherd, a professor at the University of Georgia, conducted a study on the 'Brown Ocean Effect'. Essentially a phenomena where conditions over land (including soil moisture, evaporation rates and minimal temperature variations) mimic the ocean and the storm is none the wiser.

While further investigations into its life cycle will likely need to be done by research scientists to fully understand it, Dr. Shepherd can't rule it out as a potential factor.

To say the meteorology world was impressed would be an understatement and you can bet we soaked up every ounce of this odd life:

So what's next? Watch the video below on tropical development in June with meteorologist Jaclyn Whittal:


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