As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the nation, federal forecasters are predicting an “above-normal” hurricane season in the Atlantic and “near- or below-normal” cyclone activity in the central Pacific.
In a call with reporters Thursday to announce the Atlantic outlook, Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said “an above-normal season is most likely, with a possibility of that season being extremely active.”
The agency forecasts between 13 and 19 named storms, 6 to 10 hurricanes and 3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). The season would mark a record five-year streak of severe storm seasons, beating the previous four-year record from 1998 to 2001.
“At this time, it is not possible to predict how many of these potential storms will land,” Jacobs said.
But Gerry Bell, a hurricane climate specialist and research meteorologist at the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Maryland, warned: “The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be a busy one.”
The federal forecast lines up with several organizations that have already released 2020 seasonal outlooks warning of above-average Atlantic hurricane activity.
The 2020 season officially begins on June 1. But over the weekend Tropical Storm Arthur, this year’s first named storm, formed in the Atlantic, battering Southeastern states with winds and rain before dissipating after three days. It marked the eighth preseason storm in the past decade, a sign, scientists say, of warming oceans.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said officials were prepared to implement social distancing measures in evacuation centers, but warned “there’s always a challenge having enough” space and urged those displaced by storms to seek shelter with loved ones.
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be a busy one.
Gerry Bell, NOAA research meteorologist
“Evacuation centers are meant to keep you safe, but they’re not meant to keep you comfortable,” Carlos Castillo, FEMA’s acting deputy administrator for resilience, said on the call.
The forecasts come on the heels of a 2019 Atlantic hurricane season that tied 1969 as the fourth most active season on record. There were 18 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. The worst of them was Dorian, which slammed into the northern Bahamas as a monster Category 5 hurricane ― the strongest to make landfall in the island nation’s recorded history ― devastating the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama and causing at least $3.4 billion in damage. At least 70 people died and some 30,000 were left homeless. Climate scientists called it “a preview of the climate crisis to come.”
On Monday, researchers at the NOAA and the University of Wisconsin at Madison published a study that found that planetary warming over the last 40 years increased the likelihood of tropical storms becoming major hurricanes ― anything over a Category 3 ― by 8% per decade.
The Atlantic forecast comes a day after NOAA announced a 75% chance of a “near- or below-normal” season in the central Pacific. Two to six tropical cyclones are expected to develop there.
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