Hurricane Arlene, already? Slight chance a cyclone forms soon

Arlene. That will be the name of the season's first hurricane, which might come as early as mid-April this year.

“Might” is probably overstating it. Right now, the National Hurricane Center is tracking a tropical system 450 miles northeast of Puerto Rico that is shooting off gale-force winds and showers and thunderstorms. (Satellite video.) It's crawling toward the U.S. at 10 m.p.h. and shows little chance of making it. The NHC gives the “poorly organized” storm only a 10 percent chance of developing into a tropical or subtropical cyclone in the next two days, the time frame in which its upper-level winds are still strong enough to sustain hurricane genesis.

If it did swell into something larger, the storm would be unusually early, giving credit to hurricane forecasters who have predicted a busy year for cyclone genesis. Tropical cyclones usually form in the Atlantic Basin from June 1 to Nov. 30. Subtropical cyclones are more likely to form outside that period, because they don't require as much warmth from the sea surface to grow.

Still, this wouldn't be the earliest cyclone to ever form in the Atlantic. On March 6, 1908, a Category 2 hurricane came rushing out of the Caribbean to shake up the residents of the Virgin Islands. An account in that year's Monthly Weather Review rated the cyclone as “so boisterous” that it recalled the powerful summer hurricane season. The account goes on:

By and by it became possible to say just where the cyclone center had past thru the Caribbean chain of islands, namely, between St. Christopher on the southeast and St. Eustatius on the northwest. This is manifest from the fact that at St. Christopher and at Nevis all the small craft lying, as is the case nearly everywhere in the Caribbean chain, on the westward or lee side of the islands were driven ashore, while at St. Eustatius the vessels (also on the lee side) were driven out to sea.

A schooner navigated by the mate and a couple of hands arrived at St. Thomas and reported having been driven off from St. Eustatius by the storm, the captain and the rest of the crew having been left ashore, as there was no possibility of communicating. On the 23d of March a telegram was received here in St. Crois from Porto Rico announcing that a 'Curacao sloop named the Sea Hawk was picked up off Arroyo on Friday (the 20th), abandoned and stripped of mast and sails.

The storm also damaged an Anglican Church near St. Bartholomew, ripped apart the tents of “peasants” and blew away the cotton crop.