The takeaway message:
Hurricane season has started off strong with three named storms already — and it’s just the beginning of what researchers predict will be an “above-normal” season. A new study also shows how a decrease in aerosol pollution may be contributing to an increase in storms.
What’s going on?
This month contains the start of two important seasons for Floridians: the beginning of summer on June 20 and the beginning of hurricane season on June 1. That means that amid the hot, sticky days and afternoon thunderstorms, some cyclones could make landfall on state soil in the upcoming months. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts a 60% chance of an above-normal hurricane season.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center “is forecasting a likely range of 13 to 19 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher).” This also includes three to six major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher), according to the NOAA press release. The researchers say they are 70% confident about these predictions.
This year’s hurricane season has started with a bang as three named storms — Tropical Storm Arthur, Tropical Storm Bertha and Tropical Storm Cristobal — have already formed thus far. The first two storms formed in May before the start of the season, while the third blew in by June 10, just over a week after the season kicked off.
Another new NOAA study details how a decrease in aerosol pollution has played a big role in the increase of hurricanes. This is because some manmade aerosols actually shield the ocean from sun rays, cooling the water. The decrease in manmade aerosols due to pollution control interventions has resulted in warmer waters, creating a breeding ground for hurricanes. The researchers note that climate change has also played a role, but was “outperformed” by aerosols and volcanoes, the study author told the Miami Herald. The study aims to clarify the complex relationship between climate change and hurricane formation.
The NOAA study also predicts that the average global number of hurricanes will drop from 86 to 69 by the end of the century. This is because warmer air above oceans will eventually stabilize the atmosphere, which isn’t ideal for storm formation. But, climate scientists predict that the storms that do form will be more intense as the climate changes.
And as the season of storms aligns with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a survey by the American Automobile Association (AAA) found that 42% of Floridians say they’re “less likely to evacuate for a storm this year for fear of contracting the coronavirus.” A quarter of survey respondents admit they would downright refuse to leave their homes.
“The coronavirus just complicates matters even more for those preparing for what is forecast to be an active hurricane season,” said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins in its press release.
Why it matters.
Depending on their category, hurricanes can sport wind speeds from 74 to more than 157 miles per hour, accompanied by heavy rains and storm surges. Buildings, trees, power lines and more can fall victim to damages. For example, in 2018, the Category 5 Hurricane Michael tore into Florida’s Panhandle, resulting in 16 deaths and $25 billion in damage — including 93% of the buildings in Mexico Beach, Florida. These potential dangers are why officials urge residents to “never ignore an order to evacuate.”
Hurricanes not only impact humans, but they’ve also proven to have devastating impacts on the environment. They can strip sand from coastal areas, destroy coral reefs and demolish beach dunes, according to the United States Geological Survey. Hurricanes can also disrupt ecosystems by creating chemical spills and dispersing invasive species.
What can I do?
- Track any active tropical storms or hurricanes through the National Hurricane Center.
- Prepare for a hurricane during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Review Florida’s hurricane evacuation routes.
Other noteworthy “Climate Responsibility and Natural Hazards” news:
- Florida Everglades wildfire spreads smoke in South Florida. This one is ‘human caused.’
- Florida Forest Service battling 2,000-acre fire in Santa Rosa County
- What data do cities like Orlando need to prepare for climate migrants?
- Arborists can assess — in advance — which trees are most likely to topple in a hurricane
- It’s not over yet. South Florida could see a new round of storms and flooding