What to watch out for in the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season

Written by Staff Writer at CNN

A signboard at ‘New Orleans International Airport’ after Hurricane Isaac caused severe damage in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Aug. 26, 2012. Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1, so once-a-year hurricane predictions aren’t a great place to start. It’s too early for researchers to think about long-term trends that would have an impact on the 2020 Atlantic season, so scientists give annual predictions to get a sense of where things are headed.

As for the season’s timing, the term “peak of hurricane season” doesn’t apply. There’s no reliable timing of hurricanes; the highest numbers are seen in September and October, when the tropics are strong.

That means the season starts slowly, peaking in August with eight named storms. This year, the peak coincided with the start of summer and the arrival of Hurricane Isaac, making 2018 a year when the season peaked just before the peak.

These meteorological markers are all part of a larger climate picture. When there are less hurricanes, there are fewer changes in patterns such as warming and cooling. When there are more storms, the conditions are slightly different. One of the most obvious changes is in sea surface temperatures. Warm waters can fuel more storms and high wind patterns can pick up energy off the surface of the ocean.

Image copyright 2018 NOAA National Climatic Data Center

While cooler water can also affect the number of hurricanes, it’s still clear that the Atlantic basin is warming. Warming oceans were actually the main driver behind Hurricane Florence, the most damaging storm on record in the US.

This warming also means that the Atlantic basin has a greater potential to produce major hurricanes that cause major destruction on land. The difference between a Category 3 and a Category 5 is not that great; they’re big, but the difference between a Category 4 and a Category 5 is dramatically bigger.

That means that scientists will be very interested in the number of major hurricanes this season. The storm cluster we saw last year (no Category 5s) is unusual, and since then, scientists have been asking the question, will it happen again? One prediction is for four major hurricanes to develop, out of 48 named storms.

Image copyright 2018 NOAA National Climatic Data Center

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is promising, however, and the overall trend is toward a quiet season. Last year, there were only eight hurricanes, one of which was a Category 5. While the combination of lower hurricanes and warmer sea temperatures looks promising, there’s still a long way to go. In fact, the last time there were fewer than seven hurricanes in the Atlantic was in 2016, and the current meteorological forecast for the 2020 season is for less than five.

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