© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

NOAA issues its busiest hurricane season forecast yet, warns: 'The big ones are fast'

A NOAA satellite image shows Hurricane Idalia heading towards Florida's west coast, followed by Hurricane Franklin on Aug. 29, 2023.
A NOAA satellite image shows Hurricane Idalia heading towards Florida's Gulf coast, while Hurricane Franklin churned off the Atlantic east coast on Aug. 29, 2023. Idalia rapidly intensified overnight, with sustained winds growing from 70 mph early Aug. 28 to 130 mph early Aug. 29, before hitting Florida's Big Bend.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling for the busiest Atlantic hurricane season in its forecasting history this year, with up to 25 named storms, between 8 and 13 hurricanes and up to seven major hurricanes.

Forecasters say there’s an 85% chance — the highest odds they’ve ever issued — that the season will again be above average, driven by hot ocean temperatures, a La Niña that produces slower atmospheric winds that typically weaken storms, and a busy African monsoon season.

READ MORE: 'Short fuse storms' are a major concern as Florida prepares for hurricane season

“Everything has to come together to get a forecast like this,” National Weather Service Director Ken Graham said Thursday at a press briefing. “You have all your energy in the oceans. We have an active African monsoon, so: Check. Don't expect a whole lot of shear. Check. So you really look at all these different patterns, and they all come together to make this big forecast.”

If the season plays out as predicted, it will extend a string of busy storm years churning across the Atlantic and Caribbean as climate change continues to warm the planet.

Between 2016 and 2021, storms consecutively topped the average numbers set over the previous three decades with a minimum 12 named storms. Those storms caused more than $500 billion in estimated damages. In 2022, the season dipped below the average, in part because NOAA adjusted the average up as storm numbers soared and increased it to 14 named storms. Last year, the season again kicked into high gear, becoming the fourth most active season on record with 20 named storms as an ocean heat wave swept through waters around South Florida.

A graphic with a pie chart showing 2024 hurricane season probability.
Forecasters say there's an 85% chance - the highest odds they've ever issued - that the 2024 Atlantic season will again beat the average season of 14 named storms.

The La Niña weather pattern, which NOAA says has a 77% chance of forming, could be potentially more hazardous near the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean, where wind shear typically plays a bigger part in weakening storms, said Matthew Rosencrans, NOAA’s lead seasonal forecaster.

“A lot of those wind shear changes happen in the western part of the basin, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean,” he said. “That's where those most notable wind shear reductions that allow those storms, that Ken just talked about, to kind of really stay together.”

Surface temperatures in the ocean, where storms draw energy, have also heated up well ahead of schedule. In the Atlantic region where most storms form, surface temperature are averaging 2 degrees to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit above average.

“They are equivalent to what we would normally see during August,” Rosencrans said. That’s typically when hurricane season peaks.

Surface waters are also hotter than during the 2005 season, which produced hurricanes Katrina and Wilma.

With so much heat and energy in the ocean, forecasters are also again worried about the risk of storms that rapidly intensify — 'short fuse' storms. While Graham said the center has improved its forecasting — since 2000 intensity forecast errors have been cut in half — the most severe storms still give little warning. All Category 5 storms to make landfall in the U.S. in the last century, he said, have rapidly intensified in just over two days.

“The big ones are fast, right?” Graham said. “They don't care about our timelines. Preparedness is absolutely everything. On those category fives, the average lead time was 50 hours.”

To help prepare for both the high number and fast moving storms, the National Hurricane Center is unveiling a new forecast cone. The new version will overlay areas with potential impacts, where high winds, heavy rain and flooding might occur, on the familiar cone of concern.

“Remember the cone itself is a cone of error,” Graham said. “It's where we think the center of the storm is going to be two thirds of the time. What about the other one third outside the cone?”

With the dire forecast, Graham warned not to lose sight of the key message forecasters hope to convey.

“It's about being ready, right? Because social media is going to take this and there's going to be a lot of terminology,” he said. “A big responsibility we have is to say this is the greatest number. So now's the time to be prepared.”

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
More On This Topic