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Today marks the beginning of Atlantic hurricane season, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center says an above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected. The outlook predicts a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season and only a 10% chance of a below-normal season. The Atlantic hurricane season runs through November 30.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a likely range of 13 to 19 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which six to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including three to six major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher). NOAA provides these ranges with a 70% confidence. An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

“As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. For landscapers, it can mean helping clients prepare in the short term by pruning dead or damaged tree limbs, firmly securing newly planted trees, and moving potential hazards like potted plants or lawn decor.

Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator for resilience at FEMA, cautioned that, “social distancing and other CDC guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters, and more. With tornado season at its peak, hurricane season around the corner, and flooding, earthquakes and wildfires a risk year-round, it is time to revise and adjust your emergency plan now.”

hurricanes

Wrecked boats in Panama City, FL following Hurricane Michael in 2018. Photo: NOAA

The combination of several climate factors is driving the strong likelihood for above-normal activity. It’s expected there will be no El Nino to suppress hurricane activity. Other factors include warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the area, coupled with reduced vertical wind shear, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds, and an enhanced west African monsoon. Similar conditions have been producing more active seasons since the current high-activity era began in 1995. “NOAA’s analysis of current and seasonal atmospheric conditions reveals a recipe for an active Atlantic hurricane season this year,” said Neil Jacobs, Ph.D., acting NOAA administrator.

The Climate Prediction Center will update the 2020 Atlantic seasonal outlook in August prior to the historical peak of the season.

Other Regions

In addition to the Atlantic hurricane season outlook, NOAA also issued outlooks for the eastern and central Pacific basins, which fared better in predictions.

The Eastern Pacific Hurricane Season Outlook indicates a near- or below-normal season is most likely (75% combined chance). It calls for a 70% probability for each of the following ranges of activity: 11-18 named storms;  five to 10 hurricanes; and one to five major hurricanes. The eastern Pacific hurricane season officially runs from May 15 through November 30, with peak months July through September.

There is also a 75% chance of near- or below-normal tropical cyclone activity in the Central Pacific, according to NOAA. For the season as a whole, two to six tropical cyclones are predicted. This number includes tropical depressions, named storms, and hurricanes. A near-normal season has four or five tropical cyclones.  “This year we will likely see less activity in the Central Pacific region compared to more active seasons,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., NOAA’s lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center.

NOAA’s outlook is for overall seasonal activity and is not a landfall forecast. Visit the National Hurricane Center’s website at hurricanes.gov throughout the season to stay current on any watches and warnings.