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Hurricane season began today, and there are legitimate reasons to be concerned

Multicolored bar graph.
Enlarge / Almost all seasonal forecasters are predicting high numbers of hurricanes during the 2020 Atlantic season.

Phil Klotzbach

Officially, the Atlantic hurricane season begins today. Historically, the season’s first named storm doesn’t spin up until some time in July. But this being 2020, we’re not having anything normal this year.

The Atlantic Ocean already blew through the “A” (Arthur) and “B” (Bertha) names for storms. And it looks almost certain that Cristobal will form in a day or two in the southern Gulf of Mexico—threatening Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana with winds and heavy rainfall. With such a wild start to the year out of the gate, what does this mean for the heart of hurricane season, which typically does not really get going until August?

For answers, Ars contacted hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who will update his seasonal forecast for Atlantic activity this year in a few days.

Klotzbach acknowledged the frenetic start to the 2020 season but said there is very little correlation between early season storms and the total activity (in terms of number of storms and their overall intensity) for the remainder of the year. In fact, the correlation is slightly negative.

Correlation between seasonal activity and first named-storm formation.
Enlarge / Correlation between seasonal activity and first named-storm formation.

Phil Klotzbach

The only thing that really serves as a good predictor for a really active hurricane season is if named storms form in the deep tropics, he said. This is an area south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. “When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it’s typically a harbinger of an extremely active season,” he said.

The first two storms this year developed outside of this main development region (as will Cristobal if its earns a name). Nevertheless, most signs continue to point toward an active or very active hurricane season.

Signals for a busy season

It appears increasingly likely that the tropical Pacific Ocean will be cooler than normal or even reach La Niña conditions, which produces weather patterns over the Atlantic more favorable to storm development. And the tropical and subtropical Atlantic remain warmer than normal.

Like most other forecasters, Klotzbach has already predicted an abnormally busy season, with 16 named storms. He may revise that upward with his updated forecast this week. “All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season,” he said.

Asked for any reason to believe this season might not be that bad, he pointed to sea surface temperatures off the coast of Africa, where tropical storms tend to form later in the summer.

Atlantic sea surface temperature anomaly.
Enlarge / Atlantic sea surface temperature anomaly.

WeatherModels.com

“In terms of items potentially holding the season back, the tropical Atlantic isn’t super juiced at this point,” he said. “There is some slightly colder than normal water in the eastern tropical Atlantic.”

Had waters in this area been warmer than normal, he said, it would be an even stronger indication of a hyperactive season. When these eastern Atlantic waters are warm in May, they tend to force wind and pressure patterns that increase anomalous warming in the tropical Atlantic for the peak of the season, he said.

So there’s that, we guess. Regardless, we’re preparing for the season with essential supplies, a hurricane kit, and an evacuation plan.

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