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Hurricane season may soon move up two weeks to May 15


Top hurricane researchers are considering advancing the start of the Atlantic hurricane season by two weeks, in part because each of the last seven years has had tropical systems occur prior to the current kickoff of June 1.

“The National Weather Service assembled a team to determine quantitative thresholds for adding or removing dates from the official Atlantic hurricane season, along with an examination of potential ramifications of moving the beginning of hurricane season to May 15,” said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “While this team continues its work, no changes to the start of the Atlantic hurricane season will occur in 2022."

That doesn’t mean a tropical system won’t develop before June 1. In fact, AccuWeather forecasters predicted in late March that there is a high chance for a preseason storm to develop -- and just like last year another unusually active tropical season is expected.

AccuWeather’s team of tropical weather forecasters, which is led by hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski, is once again predicting an above-normal season in terms of tropical activity in the Atlantic, as well as a higher-than-normal chance that a major hurricane could make landfall in the mainland United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Kottlowski’s team is forecasting 16 to 20 named storms, which is more than the average of 14, and six to eight hurricanes, AccuWeather said. Of those hurricanes, about three to five are forecast to reach “major” hurricane status, which occurs when a storm reaches Category 3 strength with winds exceeding 111 mph or higher.

AccuWeather’s forecast of 16 to 20 named storms is higher than the 30-year average of 14 per year, while the projection of six to eight hurricanes is about in line with the normal of seven. It’s also nearly identical to how 2021 played out. Last year, the 21 named storms included seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes. Eight of those storms made a direct impact on the U.S. Four to six direct impacts are predicted for 2022.

A tropical system has formed prior to June 1 in the last seven years. In January 2016, Hurricane Alex formed over the northeastern Atlantic Ocean. It weakened a bit and made landfall as a tropical storm in the Azores with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. Tropical or subtropical systems formed the other six years.

In 2020, two pre-season tropical storms formed in the Atlantic, portending a season that became the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record besting a record set only 15 years earlier. The 2020 season had 31 tropical or subtropical cyclones, all but one of which became a named storm. Of the 30, 14 strengthened into a hurricanes, and of the 14, seven intensified into major hurricanes.

There's a scientific difference between a tropical and subtropical storms, but in reality they're about the same thing. Both have a well-defined center with closed circulation, or eye of the storm. Tropical systems tend to cluster their surrounding thunderstorms very close to the center, whereas thunderstorms in subtropical systems are more spread out.

Leading meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center have been bantering around a May 15 start for several years, and now that the last seven seasons have seen some type of tropical system in May – or earlier – support for the change is growing, according to an AccuWeather interview with National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham.

"We actually took a look at history and looked at how many storms were actually forming before the season," Graham said. “Seven years in a row. We seem to be on this trend."

Hurricanes achieve “major” status at Category 3. Devastating damage will occur. Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.

Since record-keeping of tropical storm activity in the Atlantic basin began about 150 years ago, a tropical system has formed in every month of the year; however, 97 percent of them have occurred within the current June 1 to Nov. 30 window.

Last year the World Meteorological Society took up the topic of moving the Atlantic hurricane season at its meeting in March, citing seven pre-season storms in the Atlantic during the last nine years.

“These systems pose problems to us because they generally form close to land and . . . they carry the misguided perception that they are early, uncommon or not significant,” the agency wrote in its meeting notes. “These early season storms can be hazardous. At least 20 direct deaths have occurred from the late-May storms since 2012 with 200 million dollars in damage.”

As a first step, the organization suggested NOAA begin releasing public hurricane bulletins starting May 15, a recommendation NOAA’s Tropical Prediction Center was already considering and is now doing. Forecasters are already on a 24/7 rotation, ready to issue routine tropical weather outlooks because the Pacific Hurricane season starts May 15. The extra work is minimal considering how active the Atlantic basin has been lately.

The timing and length of hurricane season has not always been based in science, and changing the span of time that it lasts has not always come after rigorous study of facts.

The Weather Bureau organized its new hurricane warning network in 1935 when it scheduled a special telegraph line to connect the various centers to run from June 15th through Nov. 15th. Those remained the start and end dates of the ‘official’ season until 1964, when it was decided to end the season on Nov. 30th, and in 1965, when the start was moved to the beginning of June.

Feltgen, of NOAA, said the discussions about moving the start of hurricane season ahead two weeks has been due to recent earlier storms, but also procedural changes.

“Named storms have formed prior to the official start of the hurricane season in about half of the past 10 to 15 years, including each of the past seven years," he said. “Many of the May systems are short-lived, hybrid, subtropical systems that are now being identified because of better monitoring, and policy changes, where we now name subtropical storms.”

Other preseason hurricane predictions are expected in the next few days, including from Colorado State University’s Tropical Weather & Climate Research.

The list of names for hurricanes developing in 2022 are: Alex; Bonnie; Colin; Danielle; Earl; Fiona; Gaston; Hermine.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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Copyright 2022 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Tom Bayles