The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Is Off To A Wild Start

Cameras outside the International Space Station gaze at the Hurricane Florence on the morning of September 12, 2018. NASA/ISS

Buckle up: the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season kicked off this week and the Americas have already experienced a monster of a hurricane, affirming the NOAA’s recent forecast that this year’s hurricane season could be a wild one. 

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, peaking between late August through September. On Day 2 of the 2020 season, June 2, a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico officially became Tropical Storm Cristobal, according to the National Hurricane Center. Though just a couple of days in, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane has already seen three storms powerful enough to earn a name, two of which formed before the official start of the season. 

This is the earliest a third named storm has ever formed in an Atlantic hurricane season on record, with the third named storm typically brewing later in the season around August, according to the AccuWeather

Tropical Storm Cristobal is already causing a lot of trouble. The hurricane has already produced deadly flooding in parts of Guatemala and El Salvador, while heavy rainfall over portions of southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador is threatening to increase the risk of life-threatening flash flooding. Associated Press reports the army has evacuated 138 people in the Mexican city of Campeche, while at least 22 deaths in El Salvador and Guatemala have been blamed on the storm.

Tropical storm Cristobal forecast from Thursday, June 4, 2020. National Weather Service/NOAA 

So, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is set to be a rocky one. The NOAA is predicting a 60 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 30 percent chance of a near-normal season, and just a 10 percent chance of a below-normal season. The forecast is based on a combination of several climate factors that are playing out across the planet. 

The first major factor is linked to the El Niño Southern Oscillation, a climate cycle that describes the fluctuations in temperature between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific that has implications for the whole planet's climate and weather. El Niño typically refers to the warm phase, when the Pacific's warmest surface waters sit offshore of northwestern South America, while La Niña refers to the cold phase, when there are below-average sea surface temperatures across the east-central Pacific. 

El Niño helps to strengthen hurricane activity in the central and eastern Pacific basins, while suppressing it in the Atlantic basin. However, there will be no El Niño conditions this year, meaning hurricane activity in the Atlantic will be left unsuppressed. 

On top of that, NOAA says there are also warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds, and an enhanced west African monsoon; all increasing the likelihood for an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season.

“NOAA’s analysis of current and seasonal atmospheric conditions reveals a recipe for an active Atlantic hurricane season this year,” Dr Neil Jacobs, acting NOAA administrator, warned in a statement.

 

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