NOAA ups odds of ‘extremely active’ hurricane season

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center released its updated hurricane outlook on Aug. 6, which calls for an 85% chance that the 2020 season will be above average and may be extremely active with 19-25 named storms, seven-11 hurricanes and three-six major hurricanes.

Hurricane safety and preparedness is crucial as the season enters what have traditionally been the busiest months. In addition, chances are high that 2020 could be extremely active.

Conditions are very favorable for development of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.

NOAA updated its outlook on Aug. 6. In May, the experts gave odds of 60% that 2020 would be an above normal season. Now they say, chances are 85% that the season will above normal with an even higher potential it will be classified as an extremely active.

Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, delivered the news at an Aug. 6 press conference. He focused on the importance of preparedness and planning, pointing out that the continental United States had already experienced three tropical storms and two hurricanes.

“We’re now entering the peak months when about 90% of hurricanes form,” he said, adding that this year would be especially challenging due to COVID-19.

Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center, said hurricane season in the Atlantic basin begins in June and ends in November. This year, the season started early and has already had nine named storms and two hurricanes.

He also pointed out that the season now has a higher probability of being above active or even extremely active. He said odds that it would be a below normal season are down to 5% and chances that it would be a normal season are down to 10%.

An average hurricane season includes 12 named storms with six strengthening into a hurricane and three becoming a major hurricane.

NOAA now predicts that this year could have between 19-25 named storms, seven-11 hurricanes and three-six major hurricanes, which are a Category 3 or above. The numbers include the previous storms and hurricanes.

Bell said 25 are the most named storms NOAA has ever predicted in an outlook.

The weather experts at Colorado State University also are predicting an extremely active season. They predict an additional 15 named storms, 10 hurricanes and five major hurricanes, on top of what has already formed.

NOAA does not make predictions about landfall; however, the Colorado State University forecasters do.

“We anticipate an above-normal probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean,” wrote Philip J. Klotzback, Michael Bell and Jhordanne Jones, authors of the latest forecast.

Colorado State says there is a 74% chance of a hurricane making landfall on the continental U.S. coastline this year, the average is 52%. Odds are 49% of a landfall on the U.S. east coast including the peninsula of Florida, the average is 31%, and odds are 48% of a landfall on the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle westward to Brownsville, Texas, the average is 30%.

Regardless of the predictions, NOAA’s experts and those at Colorado State University say “it only takes one” to make it an active season wherever you are.

Bell went into the science behind this year’s forecast, which concurs with those from Colorado State. In general, conditions are more hospitable for development.

Those conditions include warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, reduced vertical wind shear, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds and an enhanced west African monsoon.

In addition, forecasters see signs of a La Nina developing, which could further weaken wind shear over the Atlantic basin allowing more storms to develop and intensify.

Bell said a big factor was the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation, which has been in effect since 1995. Since that time, 70% of hurricane seasons have been above normal, he said and 9% had been extremely active.

He said during this time, the likelihood and more hurricanes and more major hurricanes making landfall was enhanced. He urged coastal and inlands community to get prepared.

“Know your risk, make a plan and prepare now,” he said.

When asked if climate change was having an effect on this hurricane season, Bell said it was too early to tell. However, he did say that higher ocean temperatures meant ocean levels were higher overall, which meant more inundations and higher oceans along coastal areas.

“More people are living along the coast,” he said. “Millions are threatened.”

When asked to compare conditions now to those in 2005, which was a record season with 28 named storms, Bell said they weren’t quite as intense. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility that 2020 could have 28 named storms as well.

Bell said in 2005, forecasters had predicted 21 named storms, which had been the highest number recorded.

He said ocean temperatures were higher in 2005 and wind conditions were more favorable. Forecasters are not expecting this year’s conditions to be as favorable. He said two major hurricanes had formed by this time in 2005.

“Favorable conditions are not at the same level,” he said.

Still, more storms, stronger storms and longer-lived storms than average are forecast this year.

Bell, who is retiring this year, also was asked about rumors going around that said NOAA was naming more storms today than in the past. He said that had been true since about 2000, as technology improved and forecasters were able to see storms that they could not see in past years.

“But that doesn’t explain the record seasons,” he said.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.