The Atlantic hurricane season is just a few weeks away with the official start arriving on June 1st. Forecasters are already predicting a active season.There is even a good chance for a preseason storm to develop for the third year in a row.
The past two hurricane seasons were active, the historic 2020 season reaching unprecedented levels and setting a new record for the number of named storms with 30. The 2021 tropical year was almost as prolific with 21 named storms, making it the third most active on record in terms of named systems. It also forced meteorologists to use the entirety of the designated storm name list for the second straight season.
The two previous seasons - 2020 and 2021 were also active. There was a with the devastating trio of major hurricanes -- Harvey, Irma and Maria -- striking over a one-month stretch in 2017, and hurricanes Florence and Michael blasting parts of the Southeast in 2018. In fact, the last season with a below-normal number of named storms was 2015
According to Accu-weather veteran meteorologist and hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski, this year is predicted to be an above-normal season in terms of tropical activity in the Atlantic, as well as a higher-than-normal chance that a major hurricane could make landfall in the mainland United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands.
Specifically, the forecast is for 16-20 named storms and six to eight hurricanes. Of those hurricanes, about three to five are forecast to reach major hurricane status, which occurs when a storm reaches Category 3 strength with winds exceeding 111 mph or higher.
The forecast of 16-20 named storms is higher than the 30-year average of 14 per year, while the projection of six to eight hurricanes is about in line with the normal of seven. It’s also nearly identical to how 2021 played out. Last year, the 21 named storms included seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes. Eight of those storms made a direct impact on the U.S. About four to six direct impacts are predicted for 2022.
Long range predictions are not easy to make. Forecasters study a number of current weather trends, past hurricane seasons and climatological models to help piece together this meteorological puzzle.
The climatological phenomenon known as El Niño can help shape weather patterns worldwide, and in particular, play a major factor in how active a hurricane season can become.
La Niña is part of a three-pronged climatological pattern known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation [ENSO], which is a short-term climate fluctuation that is determined by the warming or cooling of the waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
When sea-surface temperatures (SST) are warmer in this part of the Pacific and stay that way over a period of 12-18 months, climate experts say an El Niño phase is underway. When the reverse is true, and water temperatures are lower than average, a La Niña phase is declared. The third phase, ENSO-neutral, is when water temperatures are around average.
When a La Niña phase is present, as was the case in the past two extremely active years, the amount of vertical wind shear in the atmosphere can be limited as westerly winds typically stay farther to the north and away from the tropical Atlantic. Simply put, wind shear is the change in direction and speed of winds throughout the various levels of the atmosphere. Understanding how wind shear influences weather patterns is somewhat complex as there are multiple types of wind shear and because it can be a factor over the ocean as well as over land.
An abundance of vertical wind shear, which typically occurs over the Atlantic during El Niño patterns, can often limit their development of tropical storms..
Currently, there is a weak La Niña in place and it is expected to persist through the beginning of the tropical season. With less wind shear in the atmosphere, there will be one fewer tropical hindrance in play. A shift to a neutral phase could occur during the summer but if La Niña remains in place, or even intensifies, then it’s possible that there could be more than 20 storms. It gets very complex and it is very difficult to forecast.
If more than 21 storms end up taking shape, that means forecasters will have exhausted the designated storm list for the third year in a row. After 21 storms, they will have to use a supplemental list for additional storms. The status of La Niña throughout the summer will be closely monitored by meteorologists. If the La Niña phase ends up fading away over the summer or early in the fall, the tropical activity could wind down well before the official end of the season on Nov. 30.
In the past seven years tropical depressions or storms have gotten a jump start on the official June 1 start date in the Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has considered moving the start of the Hurricane season to May 15th.
In addition to the presence of La Niña, above-normal sea-surface temperatures in key tropical development regions will result in a higher-than-normal chance of preseason development for the eighth year in a row. Temperatures were already above normal in many areas that meteorologists closely scrutinize for tropical systems during late March.
SSTs were above normal over the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean and eve of the east cost and southeast coast of the United States stating late March. These are critical areas for early season development. This also includes much of the central Atlantic, the chunk of the ocean forecasters refer to as the main development region.
At the end of March, sea-surface temperatures near Key West, Florida, were about 76-78 degrees, which is about 1.6 to 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. This is great for Spring Break, but not good for potential hurricanes because this is fuel for these storms that can become Monsters. These warmer than normal waters that early indicate areas that will be plenty warn for tropical development by the start of the hurricane season.
The waters in the Eastern Atlantic and toward the coast of Africa are are currently cooler. Meteorologists expect that the waters will be sufficiently warm enough in that part of the basin by the peak of the season in middle too late August.
In the northwestern part of Africa, the weather on will also help shape the 2022 season. Forecasters expect strong winds over Africa to produce frequent tropical waves later in the season. These tropical waves rumble across the Sahara Desert in northern Africa and into the open Atlantic where they can become better organized into tropical depressions or tropical storms.
Typically, forecasters say about 85% of all tropical storm development can be linked back to tropical waves, which are areas of low pressure the atmosphere that are typically situated north to south and move westward from Africa into the Atlantic.
How is the intensity of a hurricane season determined? The metric known as Accumulated Cyclone Energy, or ACE, which accounts for the strength of a tropical system over its entire lifetime. In the past, a large volume of tropical storms in a season has not always generated a higher ACE value.
The 2021 season finished with an Accumulated Cyclone Energy value of 145 and 2020 had a total of 182. Both of those were extraordinarily active seasons that were above normal when measured by intensity. However, they still fall short of past seasons such as 2017 (225) and 2005 (245), according to Colorado State University figures.
This year, any forecasters - including forecasters from ACCU-weather, are forecasting a total ACE in the range of 120-150 for the 2022 season. A value of 123 is considered to be normal.
Forecasters will often refer to analog years when putting together a hurricane season forecast. These data points are past seasons that featured weather patterns similar to the current and projected trends of ENSO.
As forecasters study this data, they can look at years that are very much like this year. Most recent years include 2021, 2012 and 2001.
Forecasters also suggest that just because a storm hit a certain part of the United States in a previous analog year, such as Hurricane Ida in Louisiana in 2021, Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey in 2012, or Hurricane Hugo in South Carolina in 1989, there is no implication that the same areas will be struck again this year. On the other hand, areas that weren’t impacted by landfalling storms in a given analog year, are not less likely to be impacted in 2022.
It has been suggested that the areas with the greatest potential for direct impacts along the mainland U.S. are the southeast Texas coast eastward through Florida, particularly the panhandle area, and the coast of the Carolinas.
One major player that is watched closely by meteorologists for determining how close to U.S. shores storms will approach -- and the timing for close encounters and direct impacts -- is an area of high pressure known as the Bermuda Azores High - also called the Bermuda high. Forecasters say the Bermuda high's strength, orientation and central position can essentially steer storms away or toward the U.S.
During the first part of the season, the center of the Bermuda high will likely be well west of the Azores, an island chain in the northern Atlantic. Due to this positioning, early-season storms are likely to be guided into or close to the U.S.
During the latter stages of the season, the center of this high pressure area will move northeast and over the Azores. It is possible that some storms could curve north and then northeast, taking a track that moves them away from the U.S.
While this season will not be like 2005 - with 30 named storms, it is still forecast to be a very busy season. Hurricanes also bring flooding rains and tornadoes - and cost millions of millions of dollars in damage. The hurricane forecasts are typically updated middle of the season as conditions change.
There are many different opinions if "climate change" has caused an increase in hurricanes.
The UN Climate Panel found hurricanes (aka tropical cyclones) haven’t increased:
“Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century.” Some years are more active than others - but there are other factors to consider."
For the United States, the trend of all land-falling hurricanes has been falling since 1900, as has that of major hurricanes. In the 51 years from 1915, Florida and the Atlantic coast were hit by 19 major hurricanes. In the 51 years to 2016, just seven. In the last 11 years, only two hurricanes greater than category 3 hit the continental USA — a record low since 1900. From 1915 to 1926, 12 hit.
We’re not seeing an increase of hurricanes. Yes, hurricane costs keep escalating. But this is not due to climate change. Rather, more people with more wealth live in harm’s way.
The US population rose four-fold over the past century, but climbed 50-fold in coastal areas. The area hurricane Florence was predicted to hit held fewer than 800,000 homes in 1940; it’s now 11.3 million — a 1,325 percent jump. Homes are bigger and hold many more expensive possessions. Adjusted for population and wealth, US hurricane damage has not increased since 1900. Global weather damage as a percent of global GDP actually fell from 1990 to 2017.
Looking ahead, it is likely that hurricanes will become somewhat stronger, but less frequent. This should not cause panic. A major study in Nature put worldwide hurricane-damage costs around 0.04 percent of GDP. Accounting for an increase in prosperity (which means more resilience), by 2100 this would drop to 0.01 percent. The effect of global warming making storms fewer but stronger will see damage end up around 0.02 percent of GDP. Global warming will increase harm, but prosperity will still decrease the overall impact.
Cyclone mitigation encompasses the actions and planning taken before a storm strikes land.. Knowledge of tropical cyclone impacts on an area help plan for future possibilities. Preparedness may involve preparations made by individuals as well as centralized efforts by governments or other organizations. Tracking storms during the tropical cyclone season helps individuals know current threats. Regional Specialized Meteorological Centers and Tropical Cyclone Warning Centers provide current information and forecasts to help individuals make the best decision possible.
High-speed computers and sophisticated simulation software allow forecasters to produce computer models that predict tropical cyclone tracks based on the future position and strength of high- and low-pressure systems. Combining forecast models with increased understanding of the forces that act on tropical cyclones, as well as with a wealth of data from Earth-orbiting satellites and other sensors, scientists have increased the accuracy of track forecasts over recent decades. However, scientists are not as skillful at predicting the intensity of tropical cyclones. The lack of improvement in intensity forecasting is attributed to the complexity of tropical systems and an incomplete understanding of factors that affect their development. New tropical cyclone position and forecast information is available at least every six hours from the various warning centers.
National Hurricane Center (May 22, 2006). "Annual average official track errors for Atlantic basin tropical cyclones for the period 1989–2005, with least-squares trend lines superimposed". National Hurricane Center Forecast Verification. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Archived from the original on June 24, 2012. Retrieved November 30, 2006.
^ "Regional Specialized Meteorological Center". Tropical Cyclone Program (TCP). World Meteorological Organization. April 25, 2006. Archived from the original on August 14, 2010. Retrieved November 5, 2006.
^ Fiji Meteorological Service (2017). "Services". Archived from the original on June 18, 2017. Retrieved June 4, 2017.
^ Joint Typhoon Warning Center (2017). "Products and Service Notice". United States Navy. Archived from the original on June 9, 2017. Retrieved June 4, 2017.
^ National Hurricane Center (March 2016). "National Hurricane Center Product Description Document: A User's Guide to Hurricane Products" (PDF). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 17, 2017. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
^ Japan Meteorological Agency (2017). "Notes on RSMC Tropical Cyclone Information". Archived from the original on March 19, 2017. Retrieved June 4, 2017.