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Hurricane season: Why a delayed start doesn’t mean less risk and is the season starting earlier?

  • / Updated:
  • Abbi Aruck 

Hurricane season is off to a late start, but that doesn’t mean the storms forming aren’t dangerous.

And is climate change impacting when these storms start forming?

A late start to hurricane season

The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season has been notable for the lack of hurricanes. However, this changed on September 1 after Hurricane Danielle strengthened into the Atlantic’s first hurricane since last October.

It was predicted that the 2022 hurricane season would have lots of activity. So far this summer, it has been much quieter than expected. There was a 60 day lapse from Tropical Storm Colin’s demise on July 3 and Danielle’s arrival on September 1.

In the National Hurricane Center’s monthly recap, they found that no tropical cyclones formed in the basin during August. This is an unusual occurrence– in fact this is the first time it has happened since 1997. Overall, it is the third time that none have been reported since 1950.

However, weather conditions change rapidly and dangerous storms could form in the coming weeks. For example, just days after Danielle formed, tropical storm Earl formed too.

Why were the storm predictions off?

Scientists at Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted the Atlantic’s seventh above-normal season in a row. Their predictions are based off of a climate pattern known as La Niña in the Pacific Ocean. Normally, this patterns brings a more active hurricane season in the Atlantic. Plus, water temperatures in the Atlantic are among the warmest ever recorded. Typically, that acts as fuel for storms.

The pattern of La Niña and the high water temperatures alone were expected to drive an active hurricane season in the Atlantic.

Experts warn not to take the slow start to storm season lightly. Just because the first few months of hurricane season have been slow, does not mean that there is less risk.

Since aircraft reconnaissance began in 1944, only two other seasons did not see a storm named in August. The first one happened in 1961, but by September, the season had a flurry of dangerous storms. Included in those was Hurricane Carla, which devastated the coast of Texas.

The second delayed start to hurricane season was in 1997. However, 1992 also had a slow start but Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida and Louisiana in August. It only takes one landfalling hurricane to make it a bad season. However, there are still three months before the end of the Atlantic hurricane season.

What does this mean for hurricane season this year?

Dry air and wind shear are the enemies of hurricanes. This year, those conditions are being boosted by the Bermuda High. The Bermuda High is a pressure system that sits over the Atlantic Ocean.

Right now, the The Bermuda High is smaller and farther north than normal. This is leading to higher temperatures in Canada and Europe. It is also allowing a powerful jet stream to dip far to the south over the central Atlantic. This has been preventing hurricanes from forming.

On average, climate change is causing hurricanes to get more powerful. In general, the air is becoming warmer and more moist– which provides more fuel for extreme weather. Researchers are still working to learn how rising temperatures might affect the overall number of storms that form. We might see less powerful hurricanes compared to recent years, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be dangerous.

Tropical Storms Earl and Danielle

Atlantic hurricane season is if full swing. Earl and Danielle are being tracked and two other areas are under observation for possible development. The increase in activity comes just days before the statistical peak of hurricane season.

Tropical Storm Earl is located between Puerto Rico and Bermuda. Right now, it is forecasted to become the Atlantic’s second hurricane of the season over the next day or so. The intensification of the storm is being held in check by wind shear.

Hurricane Danielle became the year’s first hurricane in the Atlantic Basin on Friday, However, the storm has seen fluctuations in intensity. Danielle poses no threat to land and will likely continue to move over the North Atlantic over the next day or so.

So was the prediction for a busy hurricane season wrong?

In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report calling for the seventh above-average Atlantic hurricane season in a row. The combination of La Niña and above average temperatures are what led to this prediction. The predictions called for up to 20 named storms, including seven hurricanes. But since then, zero hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic. However, it is still a possibility.

As of August 21, AccuWeather published an article stating that their forecast for amount of hurricanes remains unchanged. They are still expecting between 6-8 hurricanes with up to five of them being major.

Will hurricane season ramp up in September?

Despite the predictions of a busy hurricane season, it has been off to a slow start. However, that does not mean that activity won’t amp up this month. Historically, hurricane season activity usually peaks in September– specifically the 15th. Typically the busiest stretch for hurricane season is from late August into mid-October.

National Hurricane Center is monitoring a disturbance centered near the coast of northern Honduras. The system is currently lopsided, but it was exhibiting evidence of healthy outflow.

On a broader scale, there are signs that activity might start to pick up more notably in the next 10 days across the Atlantic. Weather models are focusing on more aggressive tropical waves rolling off the coast of Africa and propagating west through the Main Development Region. The Main Development Region, or MDR, is sometimes referred to as “Hurricane Alley.” It is belt of the tropical Atlantic that can occasionally churn out long-lived powerful storms one after another. However, it is way too early to tell if it is a potential storm.

Is climate change impacting hurricane season?

Human-caused carbon emissions are heating the planet. This seems to be particularly true in the patch of ocean where most Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms are born. Studies have found a direct connection between a hotter ocean and storms forming sooner. The surface temperature of the ocean is part of what controls the start of hurricane season.

Climate models suggest that global warming, if left unchecked, could cause another 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of ocean warming. The ocean currently absorbs about 90% of the heat caused by human carbon emissions. This will push the start of hurricane season earlier each year.

The center has already shifted its unofficial season start. The storm-watching team now starts offering daily updates in mid-May.

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