NOAA Predicts Intense Hurricane Season
As we already covered in early May, four forecasters are warning of a high energy hurricane season this summer that could affect Texas electricity customers. Their forecasts predict 14 to 18 tropical storms in the Atlantic. Of these, 7 to 9 will become hurricanes with 3 growing to become major category 3 to 5 storms. With most of the predicted activity likely to occur during the peak months of August-October, there is the potential for sudden Texas electricity rate spikes.
In many ways, NOAA’s 2020 Hurricane Outlook goes one further. NOAA calls for a 60% chance of an above-normal season. According to their criteria, an above-normal hurricane season can have 12 to 28 tropical storms. So, there’s little wonder that NOAA cautions that this season could become “extremely active”.
NOAA 2020 Hurricane Outlook
13-19 Tropical (Named) Storms
3-6 Major Hurricanes
What Powers Hurricanes?
Hurricanes thrive on warm seas with calms winds. Warm ocean water warms the air above it and evaporates. The rising warm, moist air pulls in cooler air beneath it, which also warms and takes on more moist air. This supply of heat energy creates a convection current in the atmosphere that eventually forms tropical storm systems. How much energy supply that’s available depends on how warm the seas are and if there’s no wind to disrupt the convection currents.
Because calm weather and warm water create hurricanes, the Atlantic season usually lasts from June 1 to November 30. The seasonal average (1981-2010) for tropical named storms is 12 with 6 becoming hurricanes. Of those, only 1 or 2 actually grow to be Category 3 to 5 storms.
2020 Hyper Hurricane Season?
There are several factors this year affecting the Atlantic Ocean and the atmosphere over the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico that make conditions extremely ripe for producing an above-average number of tropical storms and hurricanes:
Abundance of very warm ocean water. Currently, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) from west Africa to Brownsville, TX are well above 82°F; the water temperature that spawns tropical storms.
ENSO neutral or emerging La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño, or El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) as it’s technically known, occurs in the Pacific Ocean when a layer of warm water that is normally west of the international date line shifts eastward at the equator toward South America. The warm water warms the atmosphere and shifts the Walker Circulation eastward as well. During El Nino years, as the Walker Cycle moves easterly there are strong vertical winds over the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. These are powerful enough to dissipate the convection currents that drive tropical storms and can also disrupt a storm’s structure until it falls apart.
However, this year, there’s no warming in ENSO zone in the Pacific. With SSTs staying in the normal range, (known as ENSO Neutral ), other conditions exert stronger affects on the atmosphere. This can move the Walk Circulation in the Pacific westward, away from South America. The result is that there’s a higher possibility for calm winds and little vertical wind shear the over the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.
Calmer winds all across the Atlantic. Currently, trade winds (winds that blow out of the north east) off the west coast of Africa are weak. Meanwhile, over the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, there’s normal to below normal vertical wind shearing. So winds are mostly calm all the way across the Atlantic main development region.
So because these three conditions encourage the growth of tropical storms and ultimately hurricanes, there seems a good potential for an “extremely active” hurricane season. And it’s just getting started!
2020 Tropical Storms Coming
As of June 4, we’re now into the third of NOAA’s 19 predicted storms. Tropical Storm Cristobal is currently over the central Yucatan peninsula heading southeast . While it may weaken, it is then expected to turn north and head towards Louisiana and Texas Gulf Coast. Heading out over those warm Gulf of Mexico waters could strengthen it. On the other hand, wind shear over the Gulf could cripple it. Either way, expect LOTS of rain.
Get Hurricane Ready Now!
Texas has suffered a number of direct hits from hurricanes in recent years and we want everyone to stay safe and healthy. While there’s no telling how many storms will strike the US this summer, it only takes one storm to create a disaster. The most important thing you need to do to keep safe is to have a plan for keeping your family safe. Start preparing to weather the worst storm safely now.
- Make a plan so your family knows for what to do when a tropical storm comes your way. Covid-19 is still a public health threat so be sure to follow masking and social distance guidelines, too. Sheltering in place is an option up to a point because hurricane winds can be incredibly dangerous, especially to trees and power lines. When powerful hurricanes move far inland flooding and high winds can still cause enormous damage and disrupt your Texas electricity service for hours or even days.
- Make a Hurricane Safety Checklist to help you keep track of how to prepare and what supplies you’ll need if you choose to shelter in place.
- Gather essential stuff for your grab ‘n’ go bag. Each person (and pet) should have their own grab ‘n’ go bag if you have to leave your home. If you live in a coastal area, know and understand your Texas evacuation routes ahead of time. Make arrangements well ahead of time where you’ll go to in the event of an evacuation order.