Very Active Hurricane Season Predicted
In early May, four forecasters are warning of a high energy hurricane season this summer that could affect New Jersey electricity customers. These 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 is likely to occur during the peak months of August-October, there is the potential for sudden New Jersey 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 and according to their criteria, an above-normal season can have 12 to 28 tropical storms. So, there’s little wonder that NOAA cautions that this season 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.
El Niño years typically don’t have many hurricanes. 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 over the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. These are powerful enough to dissipate the warmth that drives tropical storm and also disrupts a storm’s structure until it falls apart.
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 in the main development region. While ocean temperatures are still cool off the New Jersey shore, current sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the area where hurricane form are much warmer. SSTs from west Africa to Brownsville, TX, are well above 82°F. That’s perfect for spawning tropical storms.
- ENSO neutral or emerging La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean. This year, there’s no warming in ENSO zone in the Pacific. SSTs are in the normal range, a condition called ENSO Neutral (or “La Nada”). This allows other conditions affect 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 and head north towards Louisiana and Texas 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!
New Jersey is no stranger to hurricanes impacts 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. While sheltering in place is an option, hurricanes can be incredibly dangerous. When powerful hurricanes move far inland, flooding and high winds can cause enormous damage, all of which can disrupt your New Jersey 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.