The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be exceptionally active, according to seasonal forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Any severe storm could create unprecedented challenges for government officials working to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, which scientists expect to continue, albeit at a slower pace, throughout the summer.
The NOAA outlook predicts a 60% probability of an above average season, with a 70% probability of 13 to 19 named storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes. Three to six of them could become major hurricanes of category 3 or greater intensity, and it is possible that the season will become “extremely active,” the agency said.
NOAA prospects show only a 10% chance of an below average Atlantic hurricane season.
An average season produces 12 named storms and six hurricanes, three of which intensify into major hurricanes.
“We don’t see anything to indicate a probability of a below average season,” said Gerry Bell, chief hurricane forecaster at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.
The agency bases these prospects on several factors, including an above-average West African monsoon season, below-average wind shear across the Atlantic and the absence of an El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean which can stifle the activity of Atlantic hurricanes. Much of the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea currently has unusually mild sea surface temperatures for this time of year, including record warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes get their energy by siphoning off moisture and energy from warm ocean waters.
Recent projections of conditions in the tropical Pacific, which can also affect the Atlantic Ocean basin, call for an increased chance that a La Niña event will develop in late summer and early fall .
Such events are characterized by colder than average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Equatorial Pacific, and they can reduce wind shear over the tropical Atlantic. This makes conditions more favorable for the formation and maintenance of the strength of tropical cyclones, since wind shear – winds varying in speed and / or direction with height – can disrupt such storms.
NOAA’s new outlook comes after a series of private sector hurricane forecasts which also predicted an above-average season.
Colorado State University forecasters released a forecast of eight hurricanes in the Atlantic in April, which is above the seasonal average of 6.4 of these storms. Of these, four are expected to become major hurricanes, above the 2.7 average. Significantly, these prospects placed almost a 70 percent chance that at least one major hurricane – reaching a force of category 3 or more with winds exceeding 111 mph – would land in the lower 48 states.
The Colorado State team has forecast a total of 16 named storms that are expected to form throughout the Atlantic basin, including tropical storms. This is above the average of 12 named storms.
AccuWeather, based in State College, Pennsylvania, also forecasts an above-average season, with 14 to 18 storms named. Another seasonal forecast from Penn State University predicts one of the most active Atlantic tropical seasons ever recorded.
High-end storms, category 3 and above, are responsible for most of the damage, and research on climate change, including a study released Monday, has revealed an increased likelihood of major tropical cyclones as the world turns. heats up. Each of the past four Atlantic hurricane seasons has included at least one Category 5 storm.
Other studies have shown that storms can approach and move on land more slowly, worsening their impacts, and there is strong scientific agreement that they produce more precipitation as ocean temperatures and air increases. Hurricane Harvey, for example, which struck Texas in 2018, led to an all-time precipitation record for any tropical system landing in the United States.
Significantly, Colorado state forecasters said they predicted “an above-average probability of major hurricanes hitting the American continent.”
The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1, culminates in September and ends on November 30. However, the 2020 season has already started since the formation of tropical storm Arthur in May.
FEMA will face additional burden while NOAA may be retested
With the end of the hurricane season in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, FEMA, the leading federal disaster response agency, is likely to face an unprecedented challenge in its history. Historically, the agency has faced several hurricanes and floods, most notably during the 2005 hurricane season, when three hurricanes hit Florida just weeks apart. But he did not have to deal with a pandemic at the same time as a regional crisis like a hurricane.
“I want to reassure the nation that FEMA continues to take deliberate and active action” to protect American security and disaster response, said Carlos Castillo, FEMA’s acting deputy administrator for resilience. He said FEMA has already added offices and staff, which it called a “peak force” at a press conference, to respond to the storms threatening the land.
Castillo advised coastal residents to start planning now for a tropical storm or hurricane that hit land, and said the coronavirus should not prevent people from evacuating if ordered to do so. “If you are in an evacuation area and you are evacuated, you should plan to go, perhaps to friends who are outside the evacuation area,” said Castillo. He also said that planning related to coronaviruses was underway for the establishment of evacuation centers to maintain social distance. For example, the capacity of evacuation centers will be reduced to take account of social remoteness, he said.
The pandemic has laid bare the Trump administration’s will to set aside science agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) having so far played a substantive role in response efforts.
Last year, the credibility of NOAA as a science agency was called into question during Hurricane Dorian, when President Trump incorrectly claimed that the storm posed a serious threat to Alabama, despite forecasts to the contrary. NOAA was forced to scold forecasters for contradicting the president via an unsigned public affairs statement, which may have violated the agency’s policy of scientific integrity.
A report on the incident by the Inspector General of the Commerce Department is expected to be released soon.
NOAA to update forecasting tools as we are stuck in an active era in the Atlantic
The past five to ten years have been one of exceptionally strong and record tropical cyclones in the Atlantic and several other ocean basins. The Atlantic has been in an era of active cyclone seasons since 1995, which is believed to be linked both to the natural climate cycle and, to some extent, to human-induced climate change. If the 2020 season is unusually active, it would be the fifth consecutive season.
Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, said the agency would have upgraded forecasting tools to work with during the 2020 season, with upgraded hurricane forecasting models and new forecasting tools. observation, including autonomous observation platforms in the ocean and the sky.
Between 2016 and 2019 in the Atlantic, storms reached category 5 in four consecutive years for the first time recorded in the satellite era of storm monitoring (dating from the 1960s). Six of 26 Atlantic Category 5 storms in the satellite age have occurred since 2016, each of which was notable for its intensity. These included Hurricane Dorian in 2019, which devastated the Bahamas and tied the second strongest storm recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, with winds of 185 mph.
In addition, Hurricane Michael in 2018 hit the Florida Panhandle as the most severe storm to hit this region and as the last such strong storm to hit the American coast. The storm severely damaged Tyndall air base and wiped out seaside towns while causing wind damage that extended far inland.
Jason Samenow and Matthew Cappucci contributed to this report.