Hurricane season outlook 2020: Not good news - what to know

Even though they rarely affect us directly here, I take hurricanes very seriously.

I know that many, many Michiganians have family or vacation homes in Florida and, in fact, over the years I’ve heard Florida referred to as “Little Michigan.”

In fact, years ago when I was interviewing hurricane specialists at the National Hurricane Center, (now retired) Jerry Jarrell told me that our messaging at Local 4 is vitally important to their mission at NHC, because so many people from Michigan have retired and moved there, have never experienced a hurricane before, and start calling their families back home (and checking wondering what to do when they here about one forming and headed their way.

So it is with a great deal of concern that I share with you this year’s Atlantic hurricane outlook, and it’s bad news.

Broken down into simple statistics, the NHC outlook calls for a 60% chance for an above average season, a 30% chance for an average season, and only a 10% chance for a below average season.

If this outlook pans out, then the 2020 hurricane season will set a record as our fifth consecutive season with above-average hurricane activity.

More specifically, the 2020 outlook suggests:

  • 13-19 names storms (average is 12)
  • 6-10 hurricanes (average is 6)
  • 3-6 major hurricanes (average is 3)

It is important to emphasize that the outlook only predicts actual storms, and not WHERE they will go. However, you don't have to be a math whiz to know that more storms means a greater probability that SOMEBODY will get hit.

The factors favoring more storms and more strong ones really aren't that hard to understand. First, sea surface temperatures continue well above average. Those warm ocean temps are the fuel that fire these monster storms, so the fact that our warming climate is warming our oceans should come as no surprise.

Second, not only is there no El Nino expected this year, but some models even suggest weak La Nina conditions to develop later this year. Why is this important? Because El Ninos create greater wind shear in the Atlantic basin, while La Ninas weaken the wind shear. Since wind shear is detrimental to tropical cyclones, neutral or La Nina conditions favor Atlantic hurricane development. As a reminder, El NIno is a eastward push of warm Pacific Ocean waters, which pool off the west coast of South America, whereas La Nina is the opposite...a westward push of those warm waters, which causes cooler water to upwell off the South American coast. There is a tremendous interaction between ocean circulations and atmospheric circulations patterns, which is why we watch the El Nino / La Nina cycle (called ENSO) carefully.

Third, there is a larger scale circulation pattern called the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO), which has been in a positive phase since the mid 1990s and is expected to remain positive this year. A positive phase causes warmer ocean waters in the south Atlantic, which further promotes hurricane development, and stronger storms.

Finally, and this is related to the AMO discussed above, is an expected more active than average west African monsoon season. Why does this matter? Because those west African storms move westward off the African coast as tropical waves, which are frequently the impetus for those big hurricanes that track across the Atlantic for many days. Adding insult to injury, according to the NHC, is the configuration of the easterly African jet stream, which could impart more rotation to those tropical waves...thus giving them a "head start" toward hurricane development should they encounter favorable conditions.

Why We Need Hurricanes

As much bad press as hurricanes get (and they should), they are actually necessary. You see, throughout summer, copious amounts of ocean water is evaporated into the atmosphere. Then, as fall approaches, cooling of the atmosphere commences, and cooler air cannot "hold" as much water vapor as warmer air.

So, the hurricane is Mother Nature’s mechanism to regulate Earth’s water budget during the transition from warm to cold seasons. The problem is that humans get in the way. But other than that, we need hurricanes.

A Hurricane App You Can Trust

Want a great hurricane app to follow these monster storms? Actually, you don’t need one because you already have it! If you haven’t checked it out yet, the free Local4Casters Weather App has a hurricane’s one of the best hurricane apps you’ll find out there.

In fact, if you check out our Hurricane Tracker today, you’ll see that the remains of east Pacific Tropical Depression Amanda, which made landfall over the weekend in Guatemala, is moving northward to the Gulf of Mexico.

If the storm survives and then strengthens into a named storm, it would get a new name - Cristobal - from the Atlantic list of storm names. After out Gulf Coast.