Hurricane season starts below average amid record heat wave


So far, the Atlantic Ocean has experienced a below-average hurricane season, with storm strength and duration less intense than usual. But Dan Kottlowski, meteorologist and principal hurricane forecaster at AccuWeather, said in an interview with Newsweek that the peak of the hurricane season, between late August and late October, has not yet arrived.

“People need to realize that we still have a long way to go and we’re going to see some very powerful storms this year and shouldn’t let our guard down,” Kottlowski said.

“Until you get to August, you don’t really see what the big picture looks like,” he added. “We have these sophisticated computer models and they all point to a robust situation evolving in August. People shouldn’t be surprised if we see a strong acceleration in August because that’s typical.”

So far, the Atlantic Ocean has experienced a below-average hurricane season, with storm strength and duration less intense than usual. Above, a man rides his bicycle on a street flooded by Hurricane Sally in Pensacola, Florida on September 16, 2020.
Chandan Khanna

Storms this year

So far, the Atlantic Ocean has seen three named storms this year, none of which became a hurricane. In an average year, the Atlantic sees three storms before August 3. But the storms were shorter-lived and weaker than in previous years.

“The actual quality of the storms we’ve had, those three are below normal. That’s a good thing because it means they’ve had less damage in a lot of places,” Kottlowski said.

But the season so far has not been without damage. In June, Tropical Storm Alex flooded the streets of South Florida. In Cuba, three people were killed and the storm knocked out power, officials said.

What is a “typical” storm?

The accumulated cyclonic energy (ACE), an equation that measures storm duration and wind strength, of all three storms is 2.9.

Normally, Kottlowski said, we’d see an ACE that’s usually double that, at 6.6.

Does the heatwave affect hurricane season?

Kottlowski said there was “some interaction” between the hurricane season so far and the heat wave the world is facing, including the devastation in Europe.

Countries across Europe, including the UK, Spain, Portugal and France, have experienced sweltering temperatures – with temperatures reaching 104 degrees Fahrenheit in some cases – in recent days, which have led to deaths and forest fires. NASA noted that in Tunisia, which experienced fires following a heat wave this month, the temperature reached 118 degrees Fahrenheit in the city of Tunis, “breaking a 40-year record.”

High-pressure systems causing heat waves in the eastern United States and Africa are connecting with systems in the south-central United States, according to Kottlowski.

This internal linkage can make it “very difficult” for tropical weather systems to develop near the eastern United States and the Gulf Coast. The heat wave could contribute to an increase in dust from African coasts, which is holding back tropical development.

Will it last?

But this phenomenon is unlikely to last, he said.

“The dust continues throughout the season, it’s just not a problem for tropical development when we come to mid-August because areas that were extremely dry are no longer so,” Kottlowski said. “That’s the key here – we’ve had a slightly above normal season for dust and dry air off the coast of Africa and that has helped to suppress tropical development.”

While there’s likely a connection between the record-breaking heatwaves because a high-pressure system causes both the heatwave and the dust, Kottlowski said that’s not the only reason we have seen less intense storms so far.

Looking forward

Kottlowski said the real hurricane season hasn’t really started yet.

August has always been when the Atlantic sees an influx of storms and Kottlowski said Accuweather always forecasts up to 20 named storms, some of which are likely to be devastating.

“The chances of another destructive hurricane are [still] higher than normal,” Kottlowski said.

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