Forecasters: Look for 'Above Average' Hurricane Season

May 22, 2020

Credit NOAA

Government forecasters are predicting an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season with the possibility of almost 20 named storms.

During a teleconference with the media Thursday Neil Jacobs, acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, said indications point to an above-average season from June 1 through Nov. 30 -- with the possibility of extreme activity.

“There is a 60% chance of above normal; and a 30% chance of near-normal, and just a 10% chance of below-normal,” said Jacobs. “Thirteen to 19 named storms; of those, 6-10 will become hurricanes, and that includes 3-6 major hurricanes.”

At this time, says Jacobs, they can’t predict which of these storms could make landfall. But, he adds there are a few new wrinkles this year for monitoring activity.

“NOAA will upgrade the hurricane weather research and forecast system to incorporate new data from satellites and coastal radars,” Jacobs said. “This will help improve hurricane tracking and intensity during the critical watch and warning time frame. Also this season, NOAA and the U.S. Navy will deploy a fleet of autonomous sub-surface gliders to observe ocean conditions in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean.”

“As we just heard, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be a busy one; and there are a number of factors driving this prediction,” said Gerry Bell, a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center.

He says the region has been a “high activity era” since 1995.

“These conditions include warmer ocean temperatures and weaker trade winds in the Atlantic main development region,” Bell said. “They also include weaker vertical windshear; and an enhanced West African monsoon.”

Another factor could be the further development of La Nina in the Pacific Ocean. Bell says for now, neutral conditions are prevalent. But….

“If La Nina develops in time, it would reinforce those high-activity area conditions, and further increase the likelihood of an above-normal season with activity likely near the upper ends of the predicted ranges,” said Bell.

“Already it’s been an active early start to the Atlantic hurricane season; we just saw Tropical Storm Arthur form off the east coast of Florida and brush against the Outer Banks of North Carolina,” said meteorologist Athena Masson with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.

And she reminds everyone the kickoff to the season is still two weeks away.

“And this coincides with other meteorological networks such as AccuWeather and Colorado St. University,” Masson said. “So now we have three main forecasters that are calling for possibly an active hurricane season. And that’s something to really keep an eye out on.”

The year 2020 marks the sixth consecutive year that a storm has formed in April or May. But the presence of Tropical Storm Arthur, says Masson, does not necessarily mean the upcoming season will be wild and woolly.

“We look at other indicators; sea-surface temperature, how much windshear is in the atmosphere,” said Masson. “And this changes month-to-month. So even though we’ve had the past few years an above-average hurricane season, prior to that 2014 and even 2015 – when we did have an early system – it really wasn’t an above-active hurricane season.”

Closer to home, Florida’s 67 emergency operations centers – as well as the state – are preparing for the season while also battling the coronavirus.

“We’ve always had a hurricane plan, we’ve always had our shelters identified,” said Eric Gilmore, who heads emergency ops in Escambia County. “It’s now the CDC guidance we’re getting; the social distancing you’ve seen in the past couple of months. Otherwise, we would go into this hurricane season with just our preparedness message; making sure our citizens are prepared and ready for hurricane season. But now because of [coronavirus] we’re having to make different planning.”

Another concern is what happens after a storm, when debris and other damage must be addressed. A decline in volunteerism, which actually began with the series of tornadoes in the northern states, is being exacerbated by the pandemic.

“To be honest with you, we’ve seen a decline in volunteerism after disasters after tornadoes in our northern states [earlier this year],” said Gilmore. “We’ve seen a decline in people coming out and volunteering for cleanup because of COVID-19. That was something we heard from agencies responding to the tornadoes.”

NOAA’s outlook is for overall seasonal activity and is not a landfall forecast. The Climate Prediction Center will update the 2020 Atlantic seasonal outlook in August, prior to the historical peak of the season.