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Nine named storms have already formed during the 2020 hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends in November. Experts are predicting as many as 16 more.
Conditions in the Atlantic are ideal for storm development, leading federal forecasters to predict that the second half of the 2020 hurricane season will be “extremely active.”
The update, released last week by forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, predicts between 19 and 25 named storms (winds of 39 miles per hour or greater). Seven to 11 of those are likely to become hurricanes (with wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour), including three to six major hurricanes (winds of 111 miles per hour or more).
It’s a sharp increase from the agency’s May outlook, which predicted between 13 and 19 named storms. The 2020 hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30, is already the busiest on record to date, with nine named storms forming before August for the first time ever.
Only two named storms form on average by early August, according to NOAA, and the ninth named storm usually does not form until early October. An average season produces 12 named storms and six hurricanes. The agency has never predicted that 25 storms would form in the course of a single season. (The updated projection includes the nine storms already in the books.)
“This is one of the most active seasonal forecasts that NOAA has produced in its 22-year history of hurricane outlooks,” Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce, said in a statement. “We encourage all Americans to do their part by getting prepared, remaining vigilant, and being ready to take action when necessary.”
Multiple factors contributed to the increased likelihood of an extraordinarily active season, forecasters said, including warmer-than-average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, driven largely by climate change. Forecasters are also monitoring a developing La Niña event in the Pacific Ocean, which would indicate cooler-than-average sea-surface temperatures that weaken wind shear in the Atlantic, making it easier for storms to develop and intensify.
Those conditions, combined with an active West African monsoon season, indicate that 2020 “could be one of the more active seasons in the historical record,” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said on a media call. “This year, we expect more, stronger and longer-lived storms than average.”
The forecast predicts only the likely number of named storms, not their tracks or whether—or where—they will make landfall. Those forecasts are “really determined by the weather patterns that are in place at the time that the storm is approaching,” Bell said. “You just cannot predict those weather patterns more than about five days in advance.”
If the forecast proves correct, 2020 will be a record fifth consecutive year of above-normal storm activity in the Atlantic Ocean, besting a previous four-year streak from 1998 to 2001.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.