In a typical Atlantic Ocean hurricane season, August is the ramp-up to September’s peak. This season came to life almost overnight in mid-August, producing a record four named storms in less than 48 hours.
This season’s third hurricane, Idalia, formed on Aug. 29, 10 days earlier than average. It struck the southeastern U.S. last week as a Category 3 hurricane and caused a dangerous storm surge, wind damage and flooding. (Idalia weakened but was still roaring in the Atlantic Ocean over the weekend.)
By the end of August, 11 named storms had formed. Only eight other hurricane seasons in more than 100 years of record-keeping have matched that pace, according to Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane expert at Colorado State University. They include the busy and memorable seasons of 2005 (the year of Hurricane Katrina), 2020 (with a record 30 named storms) and 2021 (the year of the powerful Ida).
This relatively frenetic end of August doesn’t necessarily mean that we should brace for an onslaught of late-summer and autumn storms, Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center, told me. “It’s very common that you’ll get a whole bunch of storms, then it will take a week or two off,” he said.
At this busy point in the hurricane season, forecasters begin homing in on two-week forecasts. Even if named storms form over the next two weeks, it could feel calmer because there is a decent chance that they will develop off the coast of Africa and stay well out into the Atlantic Ocean, far from people. Such hurricanes are sometimes called fish storms because they affect only the fish.
As for the rest of hurricane season, which ends in November, two clashing meteorological forces are battling to determine how busy its remaining weeks will be.
The first force is El Niño, the climate phenomenon that shows up intermittently and can affect weather around the world. El Niño arrived over the summer, and forecasters predicted that it would ramp up in intensity. Historically, it produces abundant amounts of wind in varying speeds and directions that tears apart storms. The stronger El Niño becomes, the greater its influence in limiting the formation of Atlantic Ocean hurricanes.
But El Niño is competing with another factor: the heightened ocean water temperatures that grabbed headlines this summer for bleaching coral and turning Florida’s coastal waters into something akin to a hot tub. Scientists believe that climate change has contributed to the warming oceans. The abnormally hot water temperatures provide more energy to fuel hurricanes and could thwart El Niño’s mitigating effects on these storms.
It’s rare to see both El Niño and warmer ocean waters simultaneously, and the lack of historical context has reduced experts’ confidence in their predictions. But at the halfway point of the hurricane season, just a few more named storms will make their forecasts of an above-average number of storms come true.
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