The 2020 hurricane season is already breaking records.
Hurricane Isaias, which just passed through the Carolinas and the northeast, killing several people, was the season’s ninth named storm, making it the earliest in a year we have ever reached that number.
It was also the fifth storm of the season to make landfall. It’s the fastest we’ve gotten to five land-falling storms since the old record set back in 1916.
"From a landfall perspective, this has already been a very, very active landfall season,” said Dr. Phil Klotzbach, from Colorado State University’s Tropical Weather and Climate Research Center.
The group released its final predictions for the 2020 hurricane season on Wednesday, predicting above-average activity with 24 named storms and 12 hurricanes, five of them being major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or greater.
"Typically, we do one final update in early August to give you one final last best estimate to see what the season’s going to be like, and if we realized we really screwed things up until now, it’s one last shot at a mulligan,” Klotzbach explained.
Before you say these records are just par for the course in 2020 there is a caveat. The 2020 season has not produced nearly the same amount of Accumulated Cyclone Energy, or ACE, as past years.
For example, there were fewer named storms by this time in 2005, but the storms that did form in the Atlantic through the end of July of that year produced far more energy, including Hurricane Dennis, a Category 4, and Emily, a Category 5. That hurricane season went on to produce Hurricane Katrina, which battered New Orleans, and Hurricane Wilma, making it the worst hurricane season in recorded history.
“Normally, a lot of storm activity in June and July doesn’t say much about how active the season is,” said Klotzbach.
Klotzbach says the two big predictors of a hurricane season are ocean temperature in the deep tropics and wind shear, which is how wind direction changes at different levels of the atmosphere.
This year, water in the Tropical Atlantic is the fourth warmest on record, meaning there is more fuel for hurricanes. July also had the second-lowest vertical wind sheer on record, meaning there is not much to cap a storm’s potential.
It is why Klotzbach thinks once the peak of hurricane season arrives on August 20, we will have to make sure we are ready for whatever is thrown our way.
“The primary reason why we’re forecasting such an active season isn’t as much the storm activity that we’ve already had, but the large-scale conditions we’ve observed during July and what we expect to see during the peak of the season,” said Klotzbach.