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2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Now Expected To Be 'Extremely Busy'

Hurricane Isaias
Wilfredo Lee
Hurricane Isaias rolled up the Florida coast this month before making landfall in North Carolina as the ninth named storm in the 2020 season.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration upped the forecast number of storms for the 2020 season to 25, on Thursday the first time on record the agency has called for so many in one season.

NOAA lead forecaster Gerry Bell said the increase in the midseason adjustment was prompted by a busy start to the season along with ripening conditions. A busier monsoon season off the West African coast — where many hurricanes are born — along with steamy ocean temperatures, low wind shear and a developing La Nina weather pattern in the Pacific all foreshadow more storms, he said.

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“These conditions are all typical evidence of an above normal and extremely active season,” he said.

Altogether, Bell put the odds for an extremely busy season at 85 percent, higher than the 60 percent forecast in May. He expects the number of named storms to fall between 19 and 25, with seven to 11 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes with winds exceeding 111 mph. In May, NOAA predicted just 13 to 19 named storms.

Credit National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Historically, hurricane season gets busiest between mid August and mid October

The Atlantic got off to an early start, with nine named storms - including two hurricanes - developing before the season entered its historically busy period between mid-August and mid-October. Five of those made landfall in the U.S. Bell factored those storms into the update, but he said the conditions that generate early storms are not the same as later season storms.

“Once we get into August, September, October, nearly all of the storms form from tropical disturbances coming off of Africa,” he said. “So that's a completely different formation mechanism than we typically see during June and July, and that we saw this year.”

The projections for this busy season come close to 2005 — the busiest on record with 28 named storms including Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma. But Bell does not expect this season to top that.

“Regardless, we do we do expect this to be one of the stronger seasons in the historical record,” he said.

It’s too early to say how climate change and warming temperatures influenced the busier season, Bell said. While high ocean temperatures and increasing sea levels, which worsen storm surge, can be attributed to the hotter planet, Bell said hurricanes need atmospheric conditions to be conducive and some of those conditions, like lower wind shear, don’t reflect climate predictions.

“I'm not trying to minimize global warming at all. Obviously, warmer oceans lead to higher sea levels [and] changing ecosystems. It's a major, major issue facing our time,” he said. “But for the very narrow question of hurricane intensity, it gets more involved than just warmer waters.”

An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect number for storms making landfall in the U.S. this year.

Jenny Staletovich is WLRN's Environment Editor. She has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years. Contact Jenny at jstaletovich@wlrnnews.org
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