An already record setting Atlantic hurricane season is about to get even more active.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) released its annual update to the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook this morning; one that is released every August during the peak month as Hurricane season gets underway. I had the opportunity to listen in on a teleconference and Q&A regarding this update with a discussion led by Director of the National Weather Service Dr. Louis Uccellini, Ph. D. and lead seasonal hurricane forecaster Dr. Gerry Bell, Ph.D. at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC).
*This update follows the initial season update that was provided back in May.
The initial May forecast already called for an abnormally active season with a total of 13-19 storms, 6-10 of those being hurricanes, and 3-6 being major hurricanes (category 3 or greater.) The updated forecast that prompted the discussion that follows now predicts 19-25 total storms, 7-11 of those being hurricanes, and 3-6 being major hurricanes. Below is the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane (wind) Scale for reference.
Main topics of the discussion included a summary of the season so far, their prediction for the rest of the season, the science behind the predicted outlook, and the importance of safety and preparedness. I divided my summary of the teleconference, statements, and thoughts of both the lead scientists and myself into sections below.
Summary of Season so far:
The Atlantic Hurricane season has already been one for the record books with 9 named storms so far between the months of May and July. Some of the earliest named storms to occur for their letter have already made their appearances including Tropical Storm Fay, and the most recent, Hurricane Isaias. This year is the first time ever we’ve had 9 named storms by July.
Now that we’re entering the peak months of Hurricane season (August-October) where 95% of hurricanes form, NOAA lead scientists say that now is the time to plan as an extremely active rest of the season is predicted.
With the current atmospheric and oceanic conditions in place, the current outlook is calling for more storms to occur than originally predicted. The previous May prediction of having a 60% likelihood of an above normal season has been increased to an 85% likelihood. This means there’s an even higher potential now for this season to be classified as extremely active, and it’s anticipated to be the 3rd most active season since 2005.
To put this in perspective, this season is NOT expected to be the most active hurricane season EVER on record. The current holder of that title still remains to be the 2005 season, containing Major Hurricane Katrina.
Science Behind the Prediction
Predicting an active season such as this comes from the observed atmospheric and oceanic conditions that prove most favorable for the development and intensification of storms over the next several months to come. There are multiple weather and climatic factors that back up such a prediction:
- Ongoing warm phase of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) that favors heightened hurricane activity
- Warming sea surface temperatures across the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea
- Enhanced west African monsoon
- Developing La Nina conditions presenting weaker trade winds across the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and reduced vertical wind shear across the Atlantic basin
All of these conditions combined set the stage for enhanced, favorable conditions for tropical development, and are typical in providing an above normal season. 70% of all hurricanes seasons that occurred after 1995 were above average, more than likely due to the climactic factors in place such as the AMO to provide an ideal environment for tropical development.
Afterthoughts and Safety
An important takeaway the lead scientists had during this discussion was the emphasis on safety and preparations. They wanted to make sure this information was shared to the public, while not to cause any panic. Everyone should simply, “know the risk, have a plan, and be prepared” stated Dr. Uccellini.
Remember, it only takes one storm to have catastrophic impacts on a community. Many along the east coast are still cleaning up from the damage of Isaias that brought heavy rains, flooding, power outages, and downed trees to residents of the area.
Note: The forecast provided is a general guide to seasonal activity determined by in depth analysis of historical, statistical, and model data and does not predict the exact landfall location/time for any potential storms. To follow any ongoing tropical development go to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) website here.
Visit ready.gov/hurricanes for more information on hurricane safety and preparedness.