After several quiet years, weather forecasters think we might be entering a more active hurricane season. Early forecasts put 2020 as another above average season.
Prior to 2016, Florida had gone a record ten years without a hurricane making landfall, that is until Hurricane Hermine hit Apalachee Bay in the Panhandle.
Though the official hurricane season runs from June to November, it is not uncommon for storms to form before the start of the season, in April/May, or well beyond the end of the season right through to the following January.
In 2012 both Alberto and Beryl formed in May and in 2015 Ana also formed in May. In 2016 Alex formed in January and Bonnie in May. In 2017, Arlene formed in April and in 2018, another storm called Alberto formed in late May. 2019 was no different with Andrea also forming in May.
Already in 2020 by June 2, just two days into the official 2020 Hurricane Season there had been three tropical storms. The storms then came thick and fast with Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard and Fay being the earliest letter C, D, E and F storms respectively.
Mirroring 2005, on July 22 Gonzalo became the earliest letter G storm since Gert, followed by Hanna the following day with the earliest letter H storm since Harvey and Isaias on July 29 with the earliest letter I storm since Irene, all in 2005.
August and September are traditionally the most active months.
Hurricane predictions for 2020
Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University
The team led by Philip J. Klotzbach from the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University (CSU) normally make their first predictions in April/May time but like in 2019 for the 2020 hurricane season they published a very early extended range forecast.
They anticipated a higher probability of major storm activity. This was due to their prediction of the reduced likelihood of El Niño developing and they put forward five different scenarios with percentage probabilities. Of the five scenarios, the one with the highest percentage forecasted fourteen to seventeen named storms, nine to eleven hurricanes of which four to five could be major hurricanes.
Their first quantitive forecast was on April 2 with sixteen named storms, eight hurricanes with four becoming major hurricanes. They were forecasting an above average season with a 69% chance of a hurricane making landfall on the entire United States coastline with a 45% chance of landfall on the southeast coast including Florida and 30% on the Gulf coast from the Florida Panhandle westwards.
They revised their forecast up by four named storms to 20 and one extra hurricane in their July forecast.
Their final forecast in August saw named storms rise to 24, with 12 becoming hurricanes and five becoming major hurricanes. The chances of a major hurricane making landfall on the entire coastline was 69% (average is 52%) with a 45% chance (average is 31%) on the US east coast including Florida and 44% (average 30%) on the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle westwards.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) usually put out their first predictions towards the end of May each year with a revised forecast in August.
This year in May they predicted a 60% chance of an above normal season with an estimated thirteen to nineteen named storms, six to ten hurricanes of which three to six could be major hurricanes.
This again put their worst case scenario significantly ahead of Colorado State University. They were predicting that warmer than average sea surface temperatures, reduced vertical wind shear and less likelihood of a suppression impact from the El Nino effect would result in an above normal season.
NOAA made their revised forecast in early August and they increased their figures to predict a 85% chance of there being nineteen to twenty five named storms, seven to eleven hurricanes of which three to six could be major hurricanes.
This could now make 2020 an even busier season and is the most active season NOAA has forecast in the 22 years of its existence.
AccuWeather.com announced their first forecast on March 25, 2020 and this year they were predicting fourteen to eighteen named storms with seven to nine hurricanes of which two to four could become major hurricanes. This is well above average.
On May 7, 2020 they revised their forecast upwards with fourteen to twenty tropical storms, seven to eleven hurricanes and four to six major hurricanes.
They also predicted two to four named storms could make landfall in the USA and this was increased to four to six in their May update.
The Weather Company
The Weather Company is forecasting a similar season with eighteen named storms, nine hurricanes and four major hurricanes.
Tropical Storm Risk
Like CSU, Tropical Storm Risk made their first extended range forecast on December 19, 2019 with fifteen named storms, seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes.
On April 7, 2020 they updated their forecast predicting sixteen named storms, eight hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
Earth Networks who power WeatherBug are predicting eight to twelve named storms including three to six hurricanes of which one to two could be major.
Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University team have often over estimated named storms and hurricanes in recent years but remember these are just predictions.
It only takes one storm to do untold damage, just remember Andrew in 1992 or Katrina and Sandy more recently. 2017 ended up being far worse than anybody predicted.
In 1992 there were only seven named storms making it a “quiet” year but the first storm of the season, the category 5 Hurricane Andrew, hit Homestead near Miami before crossing over into the Gulf and onto Louisiana. Damage was estimated at $26 billion with around 65 people killed in total.
Storm names for 2020
Each year a set of names alternating between boys and girls is chosen for all named storms. Names are often re-used but the names of particularly damaging hurricanes such as Katrina and Sandy are withdrawn and never used again.
For the sixth year in a row, the first named storm of the season has occurred before the official start of the season on June 1st.
Tropical Storm Arthur formed off the Florida Atlantic coastline late on May 16 with wind speeds of 40mph bringing heavy rain to South Florida. It is expected to strengthen but remain offshore as it tracks north-northeast.
A tropical storm watch has been issued for much of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Tropical Storm Bertha is the second storm to form before the start of the official season. Bertha formed off the South Carolina coastline and quickly came ashore north of Charleston bringing 2 to 4 inches of rain to some areas.
The storm is tracking northwestwards with wind speeds of 45 mph and is expected to dissipate quickly.
Tropical Depression Three formed in the Southern Gulf of Mexico on June 1 and by the following day had developed into Tropical Storm Cristobal. It started tracking south towards the Mexican coastline west of the Yucatan Peninsula with wind speeds of 60 mph.
It made landfall near Atasta in Mexico with wind speeds of 70 mph on June 3 before weakening to a Tropical Depression and making a 180 degree turn back into the Gulf.
Some areas of Mexico received up to 25 inches of rain whilst parts of Guatemala and El Salvador experienced 35 inches.
It was then forecast to strengthen as it tracked northwards back into the Gulf of Mexico heading towards the Louisiana coastline. It was not expected to reach hurricane strength and as it approached the coastline west of New Orleans wind speed was 50 mph.
Tropical Storm warnings were posted for much of the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and western Florida Panhandle Gulf coastal area and flood and tornado warnings issued for the Florida Gulf region. Tropical Storm Cristobal brought heavy rain to coastal Gulf regions and the odd tornado in Central Florida.
It made landfall again near Grand Isle, west of New Orleans on June 7 with gusts of up to 65 mph but quickly weakened to a Tropical Depression.
It then tracked northwards into the upper Midwest bringing heavy rain and flooding in its path.
Tropical Depression Four formed off the coast of Massachusetts on June 22 and by the following day had developed into Tropical Storm Dolly, the fourth storm of the season. It started tracking east northeast along the Atlantic seaboard with wind speeds of 45 mph.
Over the next 48 hours it is expected to weaken back to a tropical depression as it passes St Johns, Newfoundland.
Tropical Depression Five appeared off the coast of the Carolinas, southwest of Bermuda on July 4 and tracked east northeast with wind speeds of 35 mph. By July 6 it had strengthened to become Tropical Storm Edouard, the fifth storm of the season.
It continued tracking east northeast along the Atlantic seaboard with wind speeds of up to 60 mph.
It is expected to reach northern parts of the United Kingdom in the coming days.
Tropical Storm Fay is the sixth consecutive tropical storm of the season.
It formed off the coast of North Carolina on July 9, tracking north with wind speeds of 45 mph.
By the following day it had strengthened with wind speeds of 60 mph and it came ashore just north of Atlantic City in New Jersey. By Saturday it had started to weaken to a Tropical Depression as it continued to track northwards.
Tropical Storm Gonzalo formed on the morning of July 22 about 1,200 miles east of the Southern Windward Islands. It had wind speeds of 50 mph but it was expected to strengthen to become the first hurricane of the 2020 season over the coming days.
By Friday wind speeds had increased to 60 mph as it tracked westward at 14 mph. By Saturday it was expected to become a category 1 hurricane but instead it weakened as it drifted closer to the coastline of South America.
As it continued on a westward track through the southern Caribbean heading towards Trinidad and Tobago it disintegrated.
Tropical Depression Eight formed on July 23 in the Gulf of Mexico and by the following day had become Tropical Storm Hanna tracking west northwest at 7 mph with wind speeds of 40 mph.
By Saturday it had strengthened slightly as it headed toward Padre Island, Texas, just north of the Mexican border. In fact is became the 2020 season’s first hurricane and made landfall near Port Mansfield on the Texas coast with wind speeds of 90 mph and gusts of up to 115 mph.
As it moved inland it weakened back to a Tropical Storm.
Tropical Storm Isaias initially started to develop east of Barbados and become a tropical storm as it approached the Dominican Republic late on July 29 with wind speeds of 50 mph.
Tropical storm warnings were issued for Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, the coastal regions of the Dominican Republic, the north coast of Haiti and the Bahamas.
It started tracking northwestwards at 21 mph with wind speeds of 60 mph and was forecast to strengthen slightly over the next 24 hours as it moved towards the Bahamas.
Most forecast models showed it veering onto a more northerly track skirting the eastern seaboard of Florida though some showed it hitting the west coast of Florida.
On July 31, it became the second category 1 hurricane of the season with wind speeds of 85 mph as it’s forecast track remained on the east coast. Hurricane warnings were issued for the northwest of the Bahamas and counties on the eastern seaboard of Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis declared a State of Emergency for the affected counties. Tropical Storm warnings were issued for the Georgia and South Carolina coastline region.
As it passed over the Bahamas it lost a little of its strength and reverted to a Tropical Storm with wind speeds of 65mph.
It was forecast to strengthen slightly as it skirted the Florida coastline close to West Palm Beach on Sunday and on Monday evening as it made landfall near Ocean Isle Beach in North Carolina, it became a category 1 hurricane again with wind speeds of 85 mph and gusts of up to 105 mph. Over 670,000 residents were left without power and there was at least one fatality.
It is forecast to continue tracking north northeast through the mid-Atlantic States, across northeastern United States and into southern Canada as it gradually weakens.