Normally, the Atlantic hurricane season sees two named storms by mid-August. This year, we’ve seen 11.
On August 13, tropical storm Josephine formed southeast of the Caribbean and on August 14, tropical storm Kyle appeared east of New Jersey. The pair are the earliest tenth and eleventh named storms ever recorded in an Atlantic hurricane season, Jason Samenow reports for the Washington Post. The previous record for the earliest “K” storm belonged to Hurricane Katrina, which became a tropical storm on August 24, 2005 and made landfall in Louisiana on August 29.
Forecasters have predicted since spring that 2020 would likely be another active hurricane season, as Alex Fox reported for Smithsonian in May. There are 12 named storms in an average hurricane season, but in May, forecasters predicted up to 19 or 20. Now, an updated estimate released by NOAA last week predicts as many as 19 to 25 named storms this season, 7 to 11 of which may develop into hurricanes, Andrew Freedman reports for the Washington Post.
“Weather and climate models are all indicating an even higher likelihood of an extremely active season,” says Gerry Bell, chief hurricane seasonal forecaster at NOAA, to the Post. If there are more than 21 named storms, the rest will be referred to by Greek letters.
Josephine’s storm system degenerated by Sunday evening, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Kyle is now a post-tropical cyclone moving east, away from the United States coastline, and NOAA expects it will dissipate by Monday night. But as Paola Pérez and Lisa Maria Garza report for the Orlando Sentinel, forecasters are watching two more systems in the Atlantic that may develop into named storms in the coming days.
Hurricane season lasts until the end of November, and it normally takes at least until October for a “K” storm to take shape. But this season has set new records for the earliest C, E, F, G, H, I and J storms, per the Post’s Samenow. Tropical storms, which get names, have wind speeds of at least 45 miles per hour. A storm is reclassified as a hurricane when its wind speed passes 74 miles per hour.
Several factors are contributing to a busy hurricane season. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides more evidence that climate change is making hurricanes more severe worldwide. And NOAA’s predictions for this hurricane season are based on notably warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, and a La Niña climate event in the Pacific Ocean that may warm the Atlantic. Temperatures above 80 degrees at the ocean’s surface are a key ingredient to hurricane formation.
An above-average monsoon season in West Africa is also sending waves—small weather events that have the potential to develop into tropical storms—into the Atlantic, Doyle Rice writes for USA Today. But storms also need moist air and converging winds in order to grow.
This year, the dry air in the large Saharan dust cloud has been protecting Florida and the southeast from tropical storms’ effects so far, but the dust is beginning to disperse, leaving Florida exposed to hurricanes, reports the Tampa Bay Times’ Josh Fiallo.
In an average year, about 95 percent of major storms form between mid-August and mid-October. And as Samenow writes for the Washington Post, conditions in the Atlantic are becoming “ripe” for more tropical storms. If more than 21 tropical storms form (the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are skipped in the storm-name alphabet) then the storms will be named for Greek letters.
The year 2005 saw 27 named storms, and its final six were named Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta.