Eye on the Sky

Hurricane Season 2020

Atlantic region expected to be active.

By Paul Wilkerson ~ Photos By Marta Morton, www.harbourclubvillas.com

Although hurricane season officially starts on June 1, by mid-May Tropical Storm Arthur was already moving along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. What are we to take away from this early start to the season?  Is it unusual to have named systems in May?

The good news on systems forming before the official start of hurricane season is that, since 2015, every May has had a named system. In some of those years, Atlantic activity was above normal, while in other seasons, activity was closer to normal.  So early starts don’t always mean we will see an overly active season, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible.

A serene sunset over calme seas is a welcome contrast to the stormy weather a hurricane can bring (below).

What is on tap for the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season? Currently, all data points to above-normal activity between June 1 and November 1 this year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released their official hurricane season forecast on May 21, 2020. An above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected, according to forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service. The outlook predicts a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season and only a 10% chance of a below-normal season. Other government entities, private companies and institutions of higher learning agree that this year looks to be above average in terms of tropical activity.

Sea surface temperatures

There are several reasons above-normal activity is indicated. One of the most important is Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs). Typically during the winter months, systems that move through the United States will penetrate down into the waters of the Caribbean to some degree. These systems and the cool air they bring are responsible for lowering the SSTs in the water around the Islands. Generally speaking, it takes the majority of Spring and into the early Summer for these waters to recover their warmth. As we know, higher sea surface temperatures act as the fuel for tropical systems, and are important in sustaining tropical activity over the long term. Without warm temperatures, tropical activity falters.

This past Winter and currently in late Spring, we haven’t had strong cold pushes into the Caribbean. As a result, sea surface temperatures are running well above normal for this time of year—currently temperatures are what we normally would see into June and early July. This is one precursor to a possible active season.

Oscillation pattern

Secondly, we look to see what type of oscillation pattern we may be under—El Niño, La Niña or Neutral. In El Niño years, tropical activity is traditionally lower, thanks to increased shear across the Atlantic and Caribbean. Shear and tropical systems generally do not mix as shear tends to tear apart systems that try to develop. Remember that tropical systems do best in areas with weak wind shear and where high pressure is present. When La Niña or Neutral conditions are present, the atmospheric conditions more routinely are favorable for tropical development and sustainment of tropical systems once they do develop.

For the Summer of 2020, the projection is for weak La Niña conditions, or Neutral.  This favors above-normal activity.

Forecasting is a tough business

It is important to remember that while the seasonal tropics forecast is calling for above-normal activity, it is completely within the realm of possibility that the season could not be as active. If El Niño conditions developed unexpectedly, or there is unforecasted cooling of waters in the Atlantic, seasonal predictions could very well be off. Forecasting is a tough business, and many challenges manifest in different ways. It will not always go according to what the forecast shows!

Preparing for the season

It is understandable that the people of the Turks & Caicos Islands continue to be uneasy with hurricane season, based on the active years of the recent past which culminated in 2017 with Hurricane Irma significantly impacting the entire island chain. Many lessons have been learned in the wake of that hurricane. It is important for island residents to remember those lessons. Pay attention to DDME when information is issued. Follow all of your government officials’ recommendations. Get ready ahead of time should tropical activity threaten you and your home.

This year, keep COVID-19 in mind when revising or making your plan for how you will shelter and protect your home, family and pets. Make sure that your family and friends know what your plan is. It is always good practice to make sure someone other than immediate family knows your plan. This could help post-storm, as others would know where to find you. Planning now will ensure you are ready should weather threaten.

Lastly, it is important to remember that the odds of a hurricane making landfall in the TCI are relatively low. The Islands do experience an occasional system each year that comes within close-enough reach to increase rainfall, wave action and erosion on beaches.

It is vitally important that all TCI residents remain vigilant and alert as we head into the 2020 hurricane season. With proper knowledge and preparation, Islanders can continue going about their normal lives with confidence that should Mother Nature threaten, they have a plan to be ready!

Paul Wilkerson is an American meteorologist and tourist who frequents the Turks & Caicos Islands. Along with his wife and two daughters, the Wilkersons stay actively engaged with Islanders throughout the year with his Facebook page Turks and Caicos Islands Weather Info.

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Master Photographers James Roy and Christine Morden of Paradise Photography (MyParadisePhoto.com) made the journey to East Caicos to capture this rare drone view of the remote island. They used their artistic creativity to enhance the color after the day turned overcast.

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