On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center updated its hurricane outlook for the rest of the season (which goes through November) and determined that because the summer’s weak El Niño has faded, the season will be more active than previously forecast. The Associated Press reported that as the “peak” of hurricane season begins they are now expecting 10 to 17 named storms, with five to nine hurricanes and two to four major ones, up from their May forecast of one or two fewer named storms and hurricanes. Yikes!
Why This Matters: The “small” change of one or two “more” major storms could mean a huge difference in lives lost (Hurricane Maria) or financial losses (Hurricane Michael). The good news is that the forecast precision is improving — with more time to prepare and more accurate prediction of where a storm will make landfall. The bad news is that each of these storms has the potential to be debilitating — particularly if one were to hit a major metropolitan area.
So Far, So Good.
- The Climate Prediction Center had said it expected 12 named storms and three major hurricanes based on the continued presence of an El Niño, which is the warm Pacific Ocean water pattern that tends to suppress hurricane activity — they expected the El Niño to persist into October.
- Specifically, the Prediction Center “raised the likelihood of an above-normal season in the Atlantic to 45 percent, up from 30 percent in the May forecast” and “the chances of a below-normal season have dropped to just 20 percent,” The Times reported.
Climate Change Supercharging Hurricanes
The connection between more frequent El Niño conditions and hurricanes is now more clear to climate scientists and weather forecasters. In addition, as The Times explains, “some effects of a warming world can suppress hurricane formation by increasing wind shear, a rapid change in wind direction. But, once storms do form, the trend of warming oceans can make those storms more powerful and can cause them to intensify quickly.” In addition, in coastal areas like Miami and New York, rising sea levels contribute to more damaging storm surges and “wetter” storms with greater rainfall totals which are caused in part by climate change.