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What Will the 2020 Hurricane Season Hold?


What Will the 2020 Hurricane Season Hold?

By: Adam M. Matheny

Tropical Distruction

It’s too early to know for sure whether there will be an El Nino or similar weather event in 2020, but it’s important that citizens prepare for the possibility. After all, the past decade has seen a troubling streak of tropical storm destruction. And professional estimates are not encouraging; Colorado State University has been reviewing climate patterns in an attempt to get a clue as to what this year’s hurricane season might look like and found that there was scant chance for there to be below-normal storm activity.

In fact, there were nearly even odds—45%–for there to be a normal or above-normal season. The study isn’t intended to predict the exact number of storms, but rather estimates the season’s accumulated cyclone energy (ACE), which can then be used to measure the strength of and how long a tropical cyclone might persist.

Researchers say that if there is no El Nino event, the outlook is for a near-normal, perhaps somewhat above-normal, season. However, it’s much too early in the year to venture a prediction on whether or not there will be an El Nino event.

What is El Nino?

El Nino is a type of global climate pattern formed periodically when the equatorial Pacific is warmer than usual. This results in numerous changes in climate patterns, including the formation of large thunderstorms and shifts in the direction of high atmosphere winds. Despite all we understand about El Nino, predictions are notably unreliable. In 2019, for example, scientists believed that there would be a moderately strong El Nino which would persist from August to October.

However, the 2019 El Nino died suddenly and nearly completely in August, ending the hurricane season rather abruptly—still, it resulted in 18 named storms including 3 major hurricanes and 6 standard hurricanes, which is more named storms than a usual season—although, right on the target for hurricane activity.

Jeff Masters, one of the founders of Weather Underground explains that “making successful… hurricane forecasts” requires a successful El Nino forecast—which is nearly impossible to do given the neutral conditions of December 2019 and January 2020.

Researchers point out that predictions over the past decade have been notoriously inaccurate. Following the three quieter seasons from 2013 to 2015, many scientists suggested that hurricane activity globally was on the downswing. A prediction that turned out to be entirely wrong, given that 2016-2019 brought increased numbers of storms, along with some particularly devastating ones. Hurricanes Matthew, Harvey, Irma, Maria, Michael, and Dorian showed just how incorrect that prediction was.

Not only that, a quiet season doesn’t mean a catastrophic storm is impossible, nor does a busy one mean that a devastating storm will definitely occur.

Statistically speaking, there’s a 51% chance that Florida will have a hurricane landfall—the highest amongst the states. There’s a 21% chance that it will be a major storm. Some experts caution against using such statistical analyses as a basis for preparedness decisions, however, with many saying that preparations in high and moderate risk areas should occur every year, forecasts notwithstanding.

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