August 13, 2022
Despite slow start, NOAA still predicts above-average hurricane season
When it comes to the tropics, the Atlantic usually starts heating up quickly as the calendar flips to August. This year, however, there’s nothing on the immediate horizon. There are no strong disturbances and no reliably modeled storms or hurricanes as a stubborn lid of Saharan dust helps keep tropical activity at bay over much of the Atlantic.

Despite the meager prospects in the short term, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday that it is still expecting an above-average season, with three to five major hurricanes likely and a dozen or more named storms probable.

NOAA’s confidence levels have hardly changed, either, since its previous assessment in late May, during which the agency called for a 65 percent chance of an above-average season. Now it is saying there is a 60 percent likelihood that the season winds up above-average.

All told, NOAA’s expectation is for 14 to 20 named storms reaching tropical storm strength or better, compared with an average of 14 in a season. Of those storms, the agency thinks six to 10 will become hurricanes, and three to five will reach Category 3 strength or better with winds surpassing 110 mph.

Those odds are not indicative of whether a storm will make landfall, never mind on U.S. soil. There have been active or even hyperactive Atlantic seasons with minimal U.S. impact, as well as comparatively quiet seasons that brought calamitous effects stateside. At a broad glance, the 1992 Atlantic hurricane season, during which seven named storm formed, looks like a dud — until closer inspection reveals that the first storm was Category 5 Hurricane Andrew, which razed much of South Florida at the end of August.

NOAA cited an ongoing La Niña as a principal driver in its prognosis, since this atmosphere-ocean pattern tends to weaken high-altitude winds over the tropical Atlantic. The slackening of those winds, which are ordinarily hostile to tropical development, makes it easier for fledgling tropical waves to grow tall and organize. La Niña is the opposite of El Niño, both of which first begin as anomalies in water temperatures measured across the eastern tropical Pacific.

The peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic is usually anchored around mid-September, lagging a few months behind the summer solstice since it takes a while to heat up the ocean waters — the elixir of life for tropical systems. Because of that “thermal inertia,” or slow-to-change nature of sea surface temperatures, the oceans often remain warm well into the autumn, the reason the “official” end to hurricane season isn’t until Nov. 30.

Sea surface temperatures over large areas of the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico are several degrees above average, indicating that there will be plenty of energy to support some dangerous storms. And in an era in which hurricanes are demonstrably becoming wetter, more intense and more prone to bouts of rapid intensification because of human-induced climate change, the lull we’re experiencing may very well simply be the calm before the storm. (Source: The Washington Post)
Story Date: August 8, 2022
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