Sally, the record 18th named tropical storm in a historically busy Atlantic hurricane season, has formed near the tip of South Florida and is forecast to become a hurricane right before it crashes into the north Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center said Saturday.

And in case you were wondering why storms have names, Sally joins a crowded field that includes Rene, a “fish storm” and now a tropical depression, and Paulette, which threatens Bermuda. Yet a fourth storm is brewing off the African coast. Yes, it can get get confusing out there, and the naming alphabet is about to run out of letters.

All three have set records for early forming named storms, those with winds of at least 39 mph.

While all this is going on, by contrast the Philadelphia region appears to be in for a period of atmospheric guilty pleasure with generally splendid September weather due to persist through the workweek, the only blights being outside chances of showers Sunday night and Thursday night.

In the short term, ironically the only local impact from the tropical activity would be related to the one least likely to affect land, Rene, which was way out there about 1,300 miles east of the easternmost Caribbean islands on Saturday.

The National Weather Service says it is expected to generate long-period wind-generated waves or “swells,” that could stir up dangerous rip currents along the Jersey coast for a few days.

It is way too early to speculate on when the region might next be threatened by more-direct impacts from a tropical storm a la Fay or Isaias. But it does appear that the storms are going to keep on popping in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

This week the government announced a La Niña event — an anomalous cooling over about 500,000 square miles of the tropical Pacific — officially declared Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

La Niña has a dampening effect on the upper-air winds that can snuff out burgeoning tropical storms in the Atlantic, and that lack of shear is one reason the Atlantic season keeps setting records.

So far five named storms have become hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph. Paulette would be No. 6; the average for the entire June 1-Nov. 30 season happens to be six. The average for all named storms is 11.

The projected path of Paulette, which is expected to become a hurricane before making landfall on the Gulf coast.
National Hurricane Center
The projected path of Paulette, which is expected to become a hurricane before making landfall on the Gulf coast.

Next up in the alphabet would be Teddy, then Vicky and Wilfred, then Alpha and the other letters of the Greek alphabet. By international convention, the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z aren’t used.

With the season just past its climatological halfway mark, it might well make a run at the record for most named storms, 28, set in 2005. That also was the year that held the record for the earliest-forming “P,” “R,” and "S" storms, Sept. 17 and 18 and Oct. 2, respectively, points out Philip Klotzbach, hurricane specialist at Colorado State University.

That, of course, also was the year of Katrina.

Fortunately, as disruptive as it has been, 2020 so far hasn’t rivaled 2005 for death and devastation.