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Ocean to ocean: What happens when tropical systems jump basins

Although rare, basin-hopping storms occur every few years.

TAMPA, Fla — With all eyes on now-Tropical Depression Agatha in the Pacific, it is important to note that, while rare, tropical systems can transfer from one basin to the other.

A total of 17 storms have jumped from one ocean basin to the other since records began in 1923. 

These particular storms start in either the Pacific or Atlantic oceans and cross the land of southern Mexico and Central America, which is a very narrow body of land. Less time over land means a shorter time for storms to completely fall apart and dissipate before heading back out to sea.

But what happens to the names of these storms?

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Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

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Oftentimes, the terrain over Mexico and other parts of Central America is so rough that the center of circulation falls apart before reaching the opposite basin. But in the rare case the surface circulation remains intact, the storm name goes unchanged.

If the storm falls apart overland but redevelops, the new name is given according to the basin. For instance, if the remnants of Hurricane Agatha, a Category 2 storm that will make landfall in southern Mexico, reforms in the Gulf of Mexico later this week, it will take on the Atlantic name Alex.

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

The most recent Pacific to Atlantic storm transfer occurred during the historic 2020 hurricane season. Tropical Storm Amanda dumped a significant amount of rain over Guatemala before emerging back out in the Gulf of Mexico as Tropical Storm Cristobal on June 1.

Because Amanda's circulation did not remain intact as it moved into the Gulf, it lost its name and acquired the third name on the Atlantic season list.

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

On the opposite spectrum, Otto formed in the Gulf of Mexico before organizing and making landfall in Nicaragua as a Category 3 storm. In Otto's case, the storm weakened significantly as it crossed Central America, but its circulation remained intact when it entered the Northeast Pacific. The storm quickly dissipated after encountering hostile wind shear.

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