Another overactive hurricane season could be in store for the Atlantic this year, with government forecasters predicting as many as 20 named storms after a record number slammed into the US mainland in 2020.
In all, six to 10 hurricanes could form in the six-month season that starts June 1, with three to five becoming major systems packing winds of 111 miles (179 kilometers) per hour or more, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday. A normal season produces 14 named storms.
Record warmth in some of the world’s oceans, driven by climate change, is stoking more destructive hurricane seasons. An all-time high of 30 storms formed across the Atlantic last year, leaving more than 400 people dead and inflicting more than $40 billion in damage and losses in North America. So many storms took shape that the National Hurricane Center used up all its names and had to resort to Greek letters to designate systems.
While this hurricane season likely won’t be as active as last year’s, “it only takes one dangerous storm to devastate communities and lives,” said Matthew Rosencrans, seasonal hurricane forecaster at the US Climate Prediction Center. Climate change causes more intense storms as well as increased rainfall, he said.
NOAA’s forecast echoes the outlook from Colorado State University, which said in April that it expects an above-average 17 names storms in the Atlantic, including eight hurricanes and four major systems. Systems are named when their winds reach 39 miles per hour.
Atlantic storms are closely watched because they can disrupt global energy, agriculture, and insurance markets. The US Gulf of Mexico is home to about 16% of the nation’s crude oil production and 2% of its gas output. In addition, about 48% of American refining capacity is located along the Gulf Coast, and Florida is the world’s second-largest source of orange juice.
Many areas pummeled by storms last year are still recovering from the devastation. Louisiana, Honduras and Nicaragua each experienced back-to-back hurricane strikes in 2020, with hurricanes Iota and Eta leaving hundreds dead in the Central American countries.
“It takes years for communities to recover from significant storms,” said Tom Cotter, director of emergency response and preparedness at Project Hope, a Virginia-based health and humanitarian organization. “If there is aid coming, it’s concentrated on the initial impact but what we forget is there is continuing need for years and that is a tougher sell.”
The storms caused more than $3 billion in damage to Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, according to United Nations and government estimates. Millions are still in need of humanitarian aid, and the U.N. World Food Program warned earlier this year of a looming hunger crisis in Central America due to the storms and the pandemic.
Flood damage from storms is “happening more and more frequently because of climate change,” Cotter said. “Climate change is compounding the misery of people living in these vulnerable communities.”
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