After a few years of heightened risks, the Atlantic hurricane season is starting to look like a fairly average 2023. That’s thanks to an unusually long-running weather pattern called La Niña finally ending, with its counterpart, El Niño, expected to develop soon. The caveat is that there is more uncertainty in the seasonal outlook for this year than usual due to unusually warm temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean.
These factors tend to have opposite effects on the hurricane season. El Niño usually heralds milder storms in the Atlantic Ocean. But warmer waters provide more fuel for strengthening tropical storms. So we have to wait and see how these competing forces will affect this year’s season.
There is a 40 percent chance of an “almost normal” Atlantic hurricane season this year
There’s a 40 percent chance of an “almost normal” Atlantic hurricane season this year, according to a forecast released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But there is also a 30 percent chance.above Regular Season “plus 30 percent chance”less Normal” when it comes to storm activity.
It is expected to grow between 12 and 17 storms strong enough to earn a name (wind speeds reach at least 39 mph), predicts NOAA. Of those mentioned storms, five to nine are expected to intensify as hurricanes. NOAA also forecasts up to four major hurricanes this year. For comparison, between 1991 and 2020, there were an average of 14.4 named storms, 7.2 hurricanes, and 3.2 major hurricanes each season.
Even with a “near-normal” season, coastal communities still need to be prepared, officials warned at a news conference today. “Remember, it only takes one storm to devastate a community no matter what statistics you share,” said Rick Spinrad, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “If one of those so-called storms hits your home or community, it’s very dangerous.”
Over the past few years, La Niña has set the stage for the development of more intense storms in the Atlantic Ocean. Both La Niña and El Niño are part of a recurring weather pattern that can affect weather around the world. In the Atlantic Ocean, La Niña tends to reduce vertical wind shear that would have prevented the tropical storm from intensifying.
La Niña finally came to an end in March, and an El Niño is now expected to develop within the next couple of months. El Niño can usually take the edge off a hurricane season because it increases vertical wind shear, which can tear storms apart as they try to strengthen them.
Climate change also affects the hurricane season. Storms derive their power from thermal energy on the surface of the sea. So with global warming, hurricanes have gotten more intense. And recently, sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea have been warmer than normal for this time of year.
Similar to NOAA, another April seasonal forecast from Colorado State University predicted a “slightly below average” season. It also underlined the huge uncertainty in this season’s forecast based on a strange combination of forces brewing in the Atlantic this year.
Typhoon Mawar has just dealt a heavy blow to Guam, a US territory in the Pacific Ocean where the storm season begins a little earlier. Mawar made landfall there on Wednesday night as the strongest storm to hit the region in two decades before strengthening into a super-cyclone with speeds of more than 150 miles per hour.
“We wake up to a rather disturbing sight out there all over Guam. We look outside our door, and what used to be a jungle looks like toothpicks. It looks like a scene from the movie CycloneA National Weather Service meteorologist said in a Facebook Live update this morning, with trees just smashed…
FEMA Administrator Dean Creswell said the storm showed how important it is to prepare for the upcoming Atlantic season. “As we’re seeing the effects of super-cyclone Mawar, what we’re seeing is these types of events are building up and intensifying much more quickly,” she said at today’s news conference. “No matter how many named storms there are, no matter what time of year it is, whether we’re in the height of hurricane season or not, it only takes one.”