The first hurricane of the season arrived late, but don’t let your guard down: NPR

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Beach chairs are seen as the sun rises in Ocean City, NJ, on August 18. It’s not the above-average hurricane season predicted by experts — at least, not yet.

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images


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Beach chairs are seen as the sun rises in Ocean City, NJ, on August 18. It’s not the above-average hurricane season predicted by experts — at least, not yet.

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For months, the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season has been notable for one reason: a complete absence of hurricanes. That finally changed on Friday, when Danielle strengthened in the Atlantic first hurricane since last October.

The 2022 season was predicted to continue the recent spate of storm activity that has pushed meteorologists deep into their annual list of literate storm names, even exhausting it completely.

But so far it’s been a quiet summer: 60 days have passed since Tropical Storm Colin disappeared on July 3 and Danielle arrived on September 1.

“No tropical cyclones formed in the basin in August,” the National Hurricane Center said. in its monthly summary. “It’s quite unusual and it’s the first time it’s happened since 1997, and it’s only the third time it’s happened since 1950.”

Weather conditions can change quickly and dangerous storms could still form in the coming weeks, experts warn. Just days after Danielle formed, say, another tropical storm, countyform.

Why is there a gap between prediction and reality?

It’s not the above-average hurricane season predicted by experts — at least, not yet. Scientists from Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a seventh straight above-normal season in the Atlantic, with more than the average of 14 named storms.

Their reasons were sound: The weather pattern known as La Niña in the Pacific Ocean normally results in a more active hurricane season in the Atlantic. Additionally, water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic were among the warmest on record, providing plenty of fuel for storms.

“Those two factors alone were expected to result in an active Atlantic hurricane season, but it didn’t turn out that way,” meteorologist Jeff Masters told NPR. He’s a hurricane expert for Yale Climate Connections and co-founder of Weather Underground.

“It was not planned and the reasons for it are not well understood,” Masters said (more details below).

What does the story say about a slow start to the storm season?

It’s a mixed picture, with a small sample size. But experts warn not to assume there are fewer risks just because the early months of hurricane season have been calm.

Since routine aerial reconnaissance began in 1944, only two more seasons have not seen a named August storm. The first came in 1961, which pivoted into a very active season. A wave of dangerous hurricanes formed in September alone – including Hurricane Carlathat devastated the Texas coast.

Flooding is seen in Galveston, Texas after Hurricane Carla hit in September 1961.

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Flooding is seen in Galveston, Texas after Hurricane Carla hit in September 1961.

William Lovelace/Express/Hulton Archives/Getty Images

The second season of this type, in 1997, remained quiet. But Jamie Rhome, acting director of the National Hurricane Center, noted in a statement sent to NPR that in 1992, the storm season was also calm, before Hurricane Andrew hit southern Florida and Louisiana. in August.

“All it takes is one hurricane that makes landfall to make it a bad season for you, and we still have three months until the end of Atlantic hurricane season,” Rhome said.

So what has happened so far this year?

It turns out that hurricanes have two great enemies: dry air and wind shear. This year, those conditions are enhanced by the Bermuda High, an anticyclonic system located over the Atlantic Ocean.

The Bermuda High is currently smaller and further north than normal, resulting in warm temperatures from Canada to Europe. It also allows the powerful jet stream to dip far south over the central Atlantic, preventing hurricanes from forming.

“When high winds rise above a developing system that’s trying to be a hurricane, those high winds tear it apart,” Masters said.

The same dynamic channels dry air towards the Atlantic which also undermines storms.

“Everything is upside down” this summer, says a hurricane expert

Climate change makes hurricanes more powerful on average. In general, air that becomes warmer and more humid provides more fuel for extreme weather conditions, from hurricanes to intense inland storms. Researchers are still working to find out how rising temperatures might affect the total number of storms that form.

“Hurricanes basically form in response to uneven warming of the poles relative to the equator. They’re meant to redistribute heat,” Masters said.

But their services were not needed this summer, as sunny conditions brought heat waves to northern latitudes and raised ocean temperatures in the far north to resemble tropical heat.

With little need for hurricanes to carry heat, the Atlantic isn’t the only place to experience a calmer storm season.

“The Western Pacific has also been very quiet. We’re maybe at about 60% of average activity there,” Masters said. “So it’s kind of a global thing going on here. It’s not just the Atlantic: things are upside down.”

Does this mean we’re going to have an easier hurricane season?

We might see less powerful hurricanes compared to recent years, Masters said, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be dangerous. Due to warm ocean temperatures, he expects any cyclone that forms to pack in a lot of water, increasing the risk of flooding – the leading cause of hurricane deaths.

“We’re unlikely to have an above-average season now,” he said, noting that hurricane season is nearing its traditional midway point on Sept. 10.

But forecasters warn not to become complacent in the absence of hurricanes.

“It’s still early days. It only takes one big storm to make a hurricane season for the ages,” Masters said. “So we still have to be vigilant.”

As the Colorado State researchers said when they made their seasonal forecast, anyone living in an area likely to be affected by a hurricane or tropical storm “should prepare the same for each season, whatever the planned activity.


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