A bad hurricane season is the last thing that is needed right now, as tens of millions of people stay home to protect themselves from COVID-19. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual Atlantic hurricane forecast, released Thursday, shows an abnormally active season in the coming months.
The Atlantic hurricane season, which officially begins June 1 and ends November 30, but for the past six years has come early as a dinner guest, typically produces 12 named storms. This year, NOAA is forecasting between 13 and 19 named storms, of which six to 10 could become hurricanes (compared to the average of six). Three to six of those hurricanes could become major hurricanes: Category 3, 4, or 5 storms with winds of 111 miles per hour or higher. The average season sees three major hurricanes.
According to the forecast, there is a 60 percent chance of an above-normal hurricane season, a 30 percent chance of an average season, and only a measly 10 percent chance of a below-normal season. . Previous forecasts unaffiliated with NOAA predict an equally damaging Atlantic hurricane season ahead. One forecaster said it could be one of the busiest seasons ever.
This year is shaping up to be a disaster in large part because an El Niño, which suppresses storms in the Atlantic, is unlikely to form. Signs point to neutral conditions or the opposite of El Niño, La Niña, a weather pattern that blows warm water into the Atlantic, creating conditions for more hurricanes. Warmer ocean surface temperatures observed in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, according to the NOAA report, also contribute to the likelihood of a peak season.
"NOAA's analysis of current and seasonal atmospheric conditions reveals a recipe for an active hurricane season in the Atlantic this year," said Neil Jacobs, acting NOAA administrator, in a statement. Already, the first named storm of the season, Arthur, came and went, brushing against North Carolina before it returned to the Atlantic.
That does not bode well for a nation under lockdown. The Federal Emergency Management Administration, which has been working on the federal response to the coronavirus, has already weakened. Add a few major hurricanes to the mix and the federal agency could be completely overwhelmed. FEMA "just isn't designed to handle something like this," Robert Verchick, a law professor at Loyola University, told Mother Jones earlier this month.
Whether FEMA is prepared or not, the agency is taking the hurricane forecast as an opportunity to remind people to make their own preparations. "Social distancing and other CDC guidelines to keep you safe from COVID-19 can affect the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what's in your travel kit, evacuation routes, shelters and more," he said. FEMA Acting Deputy Administrator for Resilience Carlos Castillo in a statement. "With tornado season in full swing, hurricane season just around the corner, and floods, earthquakes, and wildfires are a year-round risk, it's time to review and adjust your emergency plan now." .