Federal forecasters on Thursday updated their outlook for the ongoing Atlantic hurricane season, predicting an “extremely active” period as the nation continues to struggle with the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is now forecasting between 19 and 25 named storms, seven to 11 hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes of Category 3 or stronger.
The adjusted outlook is worse than NOAA’s May prediction of an “above-normal” season with 13 to 19 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes. Never before has NOAA forecast up to 25 named storms.
“This is one of the most active seasonal forecasts that NOAA has produced in its 22-year history of hurricane outlooks,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
The 2020 season got off to a rapid start, with a record-setting nine named storms in the first two months. Typically, a ninth named storm does not form until early October.
The most recent storm, Isaias, battered the Bahamas before moving up the U.S. East Coast, where it made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, delivered torrential rain and left millions without power. At least nine people were killed.
Factors contributing to this year’s potentially severe season include above-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Caribbean, and an enhanced west African monsoon, NOAA said.
The 2020 season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, with activity typically peaking during the later months.
In a call with reporters in May, NOAA researchers downplayed the significance of human-caused climate change on the potential severity of the 2020 season. They pointed instead to the cyclical impacts of El Niño and La Niña.
It is “not a factor in this year’s forecast,” Gerry Bell, a hurricane climate specialist and research meteorologist at NOAA, said when asked the agency saw a climate signal in the modeling.
A May study by researchers at NOAA and the University of Wisconsin at Madison found that planetary warming over the last 40 years increased the likelihood of tropical storms becoming major hurricanes ― anything over a Category 3 ― by 8% per decade.