Italia was a Category 2 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico as of Tuesday evening Eastern Time, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The tornado had sustained winds of 105 mph. Forecasters at the Hurricane Center said Italia was strengthening Tuesday morning and more optimistic that the storm would rapidly strengthen into a major hurricane before making landfall early Wednesday on the Florida coast.
Tropical-storm-force winds, with gusts of at least 39 miles per hour, typically arrive as weather conditions begin to deteriorate, and experts say the estimated arrival time is a good time to complete storm preparations and leave if told to do so.
Arrival times and damaging winds are possible
Italia will be the ninth storm to form in the Atlantic in 2023.
At the end of May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted there would be 12 to 17 named storms this year, a “near normal” amount. On August 10, NOAA officials revised their estimate from 14 to 21 storms.
There were 14 named storms last year, and after two very busy Atlantic hurricane seasons, forecasters ran out of names and had to resort to backup lists. (30 named storms formed in 2020.)
This year has an El Niño pattern that arrived in June. Intermittent climate events can have widespread effects on weather around the world, and it usually prevents Atlantic hurricanes from forming.
In the Atlantic, El Niño increases the magnitude of wind speed, or changes in wind speed and direction from the ocean or land to the atmosphere. Cyclones require a calm environment to develop, and the instability caused by increased wind shear reduces those conditions. (El Nino has the opposite effect in the Pacific, reducing the amount of wind shear.)
At the same time, this year’s increased sea surface temperatures pose a number of threats, including the ability to exaggerate storms.