Despite unusual quiet, tropics likely to get busy

Published 4:24 pm Saturday, August 6, 2022

By Skip Rigney

Here we are in early August and there is nary a hurricane, tropical storm, or even tropical depression to be found over the Atlantic Ocean Basin, which includes the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. In fact, there hasn’t been a tropical cyclone in the Atlantic Basin since July 3rd when puny Tropical Storm Colin weakened to a depression along the coast of North Carolina. And the National Hurricane Center doesn’t expect any to form any sooner than the middle of the upcoming week.

To have no named storms in the Atlantic Basin during the 38 days between July 3rd and August 10th is unusual. During the past 30 years, only four other years have had similar cyclone droughts during July and early August, a fact pointed out by Dr. Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University (CSU) this past week on social media.

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Dr. Klotzbach is paying particularly close attention since he and his team of researchers went on record in April, June, and again in July with forecasts of above-average Atlantic Basin tropical cyclone activity. You might think that the silence in the Atlantic over the past five weeks would have Dr. Klotzbach backing off of his previous predictions, but Dr. Klotzbach is pretty much sticking to his guns.

On Thursday both Klotzbach’s CSU team and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued updates to their hurricane season outlooks. While both slightly dropped the expected total number of named storms in order to account for the slow July and early August, both groups still think it is likely that the Atlantic will be busier than average during the remainder of the season.

The average number of named tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Basin using the past 30 years of data is 14 with 7 of those reaching hurricane strength. In Thursday’s update, NOAA gave their best estimate for 2022 as 14-20 named storms with 6-10 becoming hurricanes. CSU expects the season to end with there having been approximately 18 named storms and 8 hurricanes.

A major reason that both groups are sticking with their predictions of a busier-than-normal season, is that La Niña is still holding on in the tropical Pacific Ocean, and it is predicted to hang around through the end of the year.

La Niña’s pattern of cooler-than-normal sea surface temperatures extending from South America westward along the equator toward Asia is associated with changes in the broad atmospheric circulation patterns around much of the globe. One of those pattern changes is a decrease in wind shear in the Atlantic Basin tropics and subtropics, which allows more weak disturbances to develop into tropical storms and hurricanes.

Regardless of how accurate the seasonal outlooks turn out to be, they are a good reminder that we should not let the quietness of the last five weeks lull us into a false sense of security. The most severe hurricanes to impact Pearl River County have come in August and September with these being the top examples: August 17, 1969 – Camille. August 29, 2005 – Katrina. September 2, 1985 – Elena. September 16, 1855 – Unnamed. September 19, 1947 – Unnamed.

We can safely ignore tropical weather for the next several days. But sometime over the next few weeks we will likely need to pay attention.