The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season may be extremely busy, producing six to ten hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher.
The forecast, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center, is one of several recent reports that call for as many as 13 to 19 named storms with 60% confidence.
An average season produces no more than 12 named storms and six hurricanes.
The increase is, at least in part, related to climate change. Greenhouse gases produced by human activity and manufacturing are trapped in the ocean, where heat builds up.
“So all that warm water means that when a storm does form, it has that much more energy to draw from,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Mass. “Warm water is what hurricanes use to fuel themselves.”
The other important factor has to do with the fact that no El Niño is expected to form in the Pacific Ocean this year.
“When there’s an El Niño it would tend to create wind patterns over the Atlantic that tend to keep storms from forming or rip storms apart,” Francis added.
It’s been almost a decade since hurricanes like Sandy and Irene inflicted damage across the region.
But Francis says we shouldn’t let our guard down. The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Outlook comes on the heels of another NOAA report that found climate change has made hurricanes stronger and more frequent over the last four decades.
The chance of a major hurricane hitting New England is increasing, she said.
“As the oceans warm it means that if a hurricane does come up the coast in our direction, the water is warmer so it can maintain its tropical characteristics longer,” she said, “Which means once it does get to New England it probably will be a stronger storm.”