Apr 5, 2024 - Energy & Environment

2024 hurricane season's dark omens

Data: NOAA; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Barring surprising changes, Americans should prepare for a potentially expensive, damaging — and life-threatening — Atlantic hurricane season.

Why it matters: Seasons that feature some of the current elements have been among the busiest on record, but none have seen this potent a mix.

Driving the news: Colorado State University meteorologists issued such a bullish initial seasonal forecast on Thursday, calling for a staggering 23 named storms, 11 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes.

Stunning stat: According to Brian McNoldy, a meteorologist at the University of Miami, this will be the first year on record that the average temperature of the North Atlantic Ocean basin failed to fall below 20°C (68°F) for an entire year.

  • And waters in the "Main Development Region" of the Atlantic, where many notorious storms form, are already at levels traditionally consistent with July.

The big picture: Philip Klotzbach of Colorado State University presented the new outlook at an annual hurricane conference in South Padre Island, Texas.

  • He showed the U.S. is more vulnerable to landfalling storms in La Niña years, due to typical atmospheric steering currents.
  • Two slides he included are especially unsettling, given the home insurance crisis in states like Florida and Louisiana.
  • He found the continental U.S. has 57% odds of seeing greater than $10 billion in normalized losses from hurricanes during La Niña years, as opposed to just 10% odds of the same outcome in El Niño years.
  • Higher chances of greater damage were also seen along the Gulf Coast in particular, as well as along the East Coast.

The intrigue: Klotzbach has an encyclopedic memory of hurricane history. He also showed that La Niña years have featured far more Category 3+ hurricanes that moved close to, or actually hit the U.S. and Caribbean, compared with El Niño years.

  • A single landfalling storm, such as Hurricane Ian in 2022, can result in catastrophic losses for the insurance and reinsurance industry.
  • Higher odds of landfalling storms raise the stakes for them and for the many residents of coastal states. Many can no longer afford hurricane insurance or may be relying on a state policy of last resort that would be overwhelmed by a significant landfall.

Threat level: There have been hurricane seasons that have featured a maturing La Niña, which features cooler-than-average waters in the tropical Pacific and weaker upper-level winds over the Atlantic.

  • Weaker winds help hurricanes to develop, intensify and last longer.
  • There have also been past seasons where Atlantic Ocean temperatures were above average.
  • However, there has never been an Atlantic hurricane season in which the initial ocean waters were as warm as they are now (and likely will continue to be) while at the same time a La Niña is setting in.
  • It's this combination that is making forecasters go to DEFCON 1.

Fun fact: If this outlook were to come true, 2024 would run through the list of 21 storm names and extend into the Greek alphabet.

Context: Climate change is partly, or possibly even mostly, responsible for the record warm Atlantic waters, scientists have said.

The bottom line: Coastal residents should not sleep on preparing for this hurricane season.

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