Mar 5, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Why the Atlantic hurricane season could be an active one

Data: NOAA; Map: Axios Visuals
Data: NOAA; Map: Axios Visuals

A new assessment from the World Meteorological Organization finds that the ongoing El Niño peaked in the top 5 on record, even as it wanes.

Why it matters: The weakening climate cycle, plus other factors, sets the stage for powder keg-like conditions during the Atlantic hurricane season.

What to watch: The potential development of a La Niña by the fall, and whether record-warm North Atlantic Ocean temperatures cool relative to average before hurricane season starts on June 1.

Driving the news: It is likely that the Atlantic's 2024 hurricane season outlooks, which begin to arrive this month, will be extremely bullish.

  • Today's WMO analysis, off-the-charts Atlantic temperatures, and recent NOAA climate assessments provide reasons to be concerned about an active hurricane season.
  • Then there is the timing and occurrence of any shift to La Niña.
  • When these events, which feature cooler than average waters in the equatorial tropical Pacific, set in during the fall, they can make conditions more favorable for Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes.

Between the lines: Notably, the WMO is not yet buying into a La Niña occurring during the early fall, citing the "spring prediction barrier."

  • This refers to the known tendency for increased uncertainty in making El Niño and La Niña forecasts during the spring for the following fall.
  • However, that forecasting blind spot may not be as big of a factor this year.
  • Studies point to a tendency for strong El Niños to transition relatively quickly into La Niña events, Michelle L'Heureux, who heads NOAA's El Niño prediction group, told Axios via email.

The bottom line: For coastal residents, there are clear reasons to start preparing for the upcoming season, but no grounds for panic.

Go deeper