Forecasts call for a normal hurricane season, but ‘it only takes one’

Source(s): New York Times, the

By John Schwartz

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season should be “near normal,” government forecasters announced on Thursday, with the likelihood of nine to 15 named storms, and two to four major Category 3 hurricanes with winds of 111 miles per hour or greater.


[...] the annual announcement of forecasters’ expectations for the coming season can be “inadvertently misleading,” said Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “People interpret it as a measure of risk for themselves.” A single powerful storm striking land can be devastating, even in a quiet season, but with the announcement of a quiet season “people let their guard down.” For example, 1992 saw relatively few storms, but one of them was Andrew, which caused extensive damage in Florida and Louisiana and was the most costly hurricane on record until Katrina in 2005.


The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent over time. The overall number of storms could drop, Dr. Emanuel said, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming. But a warming planet can expect to see stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms. Hurricanes are becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surge — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.

Researchers have suggested that climate change is also causing some storms to intensify more rapidly — which, as a recent study in the journal Nature Communications puts it, “can lead to disastrous scenarios when coastal areas are not given adequate notice to evacuate and prepare for an extremely intense” storm. James Kossin, a climate scientist with NOAA and an author of the Nature paper, noted that hurricanes like Michael, which slammed into the Florida panhandle last year, show the kind of rapid intensification described in the paper, as did Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017. However, he added, “trends like this tell us what’s happening in the broader sense and rarely apply to every single event.”


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