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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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