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Scientists Now Expect Busier Hurricane Season as El Niño Ends

Climate
Homes damaged by Hurricane Michael sit along the beach on May 9 in Mexico Beach, Florida. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center said this year's hurricane season is shaping up into a busy one, as the AP reported.


Initial predictions in May forecasted a mild hurricane season, but that was revised after the summer's weak El Niño faded. El Niño is an occasional warming of parts of the Pacific that affects weather worldwide and dampens storm activity.

In the wake of a weak El Niño system, the Atlantic season looks more active than normal as peak hurricane season approaches. Forecasters now predict up to 17 named storms, with five to nine hurricanes and two to four major ones, according to the AP. That's revised from the initial prediction of 12 named storms.

If there are 17 named storms, the 17th will be Rebekah.

The revised prediction, which NOAA released Thursday, stated that El Niño returned to normal, allowing hurricanes to start to form. The forecasters then raised the likelihood of an above-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic to 45 percent. It was just 30 percent in their May prediction. Meanwhile, the chance for a below-normal season dropped to just 20 percent, as the New York Times reported.

So far, there already have been two named storms; the most notable was Barry, which drenched the Gulf Coast in July.

The New York Times reports that the effect of the climate crisis is increasingly clear. Some of the global heating tamps down hurricane formation by increasing changes in wind direction. However, warmer oceans intensify the storms' force, once they do form, making them more powerful and more dangerous. On top of that, a warmer atmosphere and higher sea levels means storms can hold significantly more moisture, making wetter storms. Those heavy storms tend to stall and drop enormous amounts of water, as was the case this in Houston when Hurricane Harvey dropped 60 inches of rain.

However, the researchers at NOAA did not use the climate crisis as a major decider in their predictions. Instead, they looked at more traditional measures like the El Niño pattern and atmospheric conditions and decades of hurricane data, according to Gerry Bell, the lead scientific forecaster at NOAA, as the New York Times reported. However, Bell noted that the Atlantic is currently in a cycle of higher activity, he said, and those cycles "completely dominate the record."

In a rapidly changing world under the climate crisis, looking at historical trends may not be as informative as previously thought.

"We are entering a world where history is an unreliable guide for decision making, said Andrew Pershing who runs the Climate Change Ecology Lab at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, as Ecowatch reported.

It's impossible to say if any of the Atlantic storms will make landfall until about a week before it does.

The next storm names for the current season are Chantal, Dorian and Erin, according to the New York Times.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.