Uncharted Waters: Preview of the 2024 Hurricane Season

Few hurricane seasons in recent memory have arrived with as much anticipation as this year, and for good reason: few have been favored with the kind of rich activity that the current outlook suggests for the next seven months.

In a recent webinar with National Weather Service in Raleigh, we broke down this year’s forecast and shared tips for storm preparedness. This blog post includes a summary of that meeting, with what you need to know about the upcoming hurricane season. A link to the webinar recording will be added to this post as soon as it is available.

The North Atlantic Ocean is favorable for the development of tropical storms because warm ocean currents – including ocean currents in the bay — provides a warm sea surface from which storms can draw energy and for light in general superior wind blow across tropical development areas to prevent developing storms from being ripped apart.

As the Atlantic warms during the summer months, the first storms typically begin to develop in June, often lasting through relative hot spot in the Gulf of Mexico or Gulf Stream, parallel to the Southeast coast from Florida past Cape Hatteras. Some storms even sneak in before hurricane season officially begins on June 1, because they are short-lived. Bertha did on May 27, 2020.

Activity increases in August and September, with prolonged storms formed just off the coast of Africa and track west. While their exact orbits are determined by weather patterns and atmospheric winds, hurricanes have specific path northern Caribbean and through or near the Bahamas may eventually reach North Carolina, as Floyd, Dorianand several other storms have caused it.

Historical chart of Atlantic tropical storm and hurricane activity throughout the year
Historical Atlantic Tropical Storms and hurricane activity throughout the year, based on data from 1944 to 2020. (Chart by National Hurricane Center)

Just like our air temperatures each fall, ocean temperatures begin to cool in October and November, so tropical activity also tends to taper off thereafter. Later in the season, the central Atlantic, Caribbean and southern reaches of the Gulf Stream are most likely area to develop storms. That was the case in October 2015, when Hurricane Matthew took down the Bahamas at Level 4 strength before drifting north as a weaker nation, although wetterThe storm just happened off our coast.

On average from 1991 to 2020, the tropical Atlantic had 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes each year. But the last few seasons have been much more eventful, enhanced by warm waters in the Atlantic.

There are a record 30 named storms in the US 2020along with 21 tropical storms in 2021 and 20 inches 2023. The same components that powered so much activity in those years will converge again in 2024.

A drone photo of flooding in Whiteville, NC, after last year's Tropical Storm Idalia
A drone photo shows flooding in Whiteville after heavy rain during Tropical Storm Idalia last August. (Photo taken by NC Department of Aviation)

The first signs of an active Atlantic begin to appear in winter, when the ocean seems to have missed the memo about the time of year. Sea surface temperature over the tropical Atlantic barely falls below 26°C, or 79°F – a level typically not reached until June.

Through mid-May, the basin remained record warm for this time of year. The main development area is warm on May 15 as usual on August 1 and on May 19, the Caribbean was available Sea surface temperatures are near 85°F: warmer than the average temperature for that area at any time during the season.

On the other side of the world, it’s a different story, as cooler water begins to bubble in the equatorial Pacific – a sign that a La Niña event may be on the horizon. If we really see La Niña return for the fourth time in five years, it will happen. dampens high-level winds blowing across the Atlanticfurther reduce wind shear and encourage storm formation.

Global sea surface temperature anomaly map on May 21, 2024
The global sea surface temperature anomaly on May 21, 2024 suggests two reasons for the expected active hurricane season: warm water across the tropical Atlantic and cool water in the attached Pacific. associated with the developing La Niña phenomenon. (Word map NOAA OSPO)

For forecasters, that has led to an important conclusion: it’s likely to be a busy season in the Atlantic. NOAA’s official outlookreleased yesterday, predicts an 85% chance of above-normal activity, with a forecast of 17 to 25 named storms, 8 to 13 hurricanes, and 4 to 7 major hurricanes.

In their April outlookThe forecasting team at Colorado State University predicted 23 tropical storms and 11 hurricanes, the latter the most predicted since preseason forecasting began in 1995.

NC State’s own forecasting group Similar predictions Ten to 12 hurricanes, along with 15 to 20 more moderate named storms, remained active this season. Their forecast, based on historical data from previous seasons with similar environmental conditions, also predicts increased activity in the Gulf of Mexico. That could mean more leftover storms hitting western North Carolina like we saw in 2020.

If this season is truly going to be one of the most eventful on record then there will be some important milestones to watch for in the coming months. First, previous operating seasons got off to a fast start. Both 2021 and 2023 had a record three named storms in June, while 2005 and 2020 each had five named storms in July.

We could also have our 14th named storm — equal to the Atlantic’s 30-year average annual total — before the mid-September peak of the season. In 2020, we reached that milestone when Tropical Storm Nana formed on September 1, while in 2005, the fourteenth storm, Natewas developed on September 5.

If the oceans reach their warmest in September, as they usually do, it could be a blockbuster month, perhaps rivaling the 10 named storms that formed in September 2020. two of those systems, Sally And demomoved in from the Gulf of Mexico and wetlands of North Carolina.

And if the Atlantic remains warm and La Niña is in effect, the late season could also be as active, perhaps on par with the three named storms of November 2020, including etaProvides moisture ahead of cold fronts flooded North Carolina that fall.

Satellite images show five tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean at the same time in September 2020
Five tropical systems, including Hurricane Sally in the Gulf of Mexico, were active at the same time on September 14, 2020. (Image from NOAA/GOES-East)

We have twice exhausted the standard list of 21 storm names for the basin, with the next storm – in both cases so far named Alpha – forming on October 22 in 2005 and September 17 in 2020.

If we see similar activity in 2024, one thing is certain: there won’t be another Tropical Storm Alpha or any other Greek-letter names this year. That’s because one change procedures by The World Meteorological Organization after the busy and brutal season of 2020 replaced the Greek alphabet with the Additional list the names are more standard, which will not change from year to year unless the effects of a storm force it to shut down.

In this year’s initial list of 21 names, there are a few familiar names, including Alberto – a previous iteration of which circumnavigated the Carolina coast in May 2012 – and Ernesto, who has reincarnated in 2006 causing heavy rain and flooding in the Wilmington area.

A new name on the list this year is Francine, taking over Florence after it was retired following the 2018 season. With a history of devastating F-named storms in North Carolina, including phonetically similar storms Fran And FrancesMemories of those storms are sure to return if Francine lands face down in North Carolina this year.

List of storm names for the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season
Storm names for the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season (NOAA image)

Our state has seen many moving storms in recent years, including tropical storms Idalia And Ophelia last year, which caused heavy rains and coastal flooding in areas such as Whiteville, New Bern and Washington. The previous year saw more widespread rain and wind from the ruins of Storm Ian.

But we’re now four years since the last storm hit North Carolina – Isaiah in 2020 – so with an active season coming up, it’s a good time to brush up on storm preparedness knowledge.

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