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'Extraordinary' Atlantic hurricane season predicted for 2024

Hurricane Lee and Tropical Storm Margot Churn Over the Atlantic, September 11, 2023. (NOAA)
Hurricane Lee and Tropical Storm Margot Churn Over the Atlantic, September 11, 2023. (NOAA)

Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) are predicting an “above-normal” number of Atlantic hurricanes this year, as the agency prepares for the start of hurricane season next week.

NOAA forecasters said Thursday they expect 17-25 named storms to develop, with four to seven becoming major hurricanes, meaning storms with sustained wind speeds of 111 miles per hour or faster. It’s the highest number of storms ever forecast by NOAA at the beginning of a hurricane season.

Two factors are contributing to the high prediction for the season, which lasts from June 1 to November 30, the agency said. The Pacific Ocean climate pattern known as El Niño, which tends to suppress Atlantic hurricane formation, has weakened. NOAA scientists predict a quick transition to La Niña, a cooling of surface water in the Pacific that tends to boost hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

In addition, record-high surface water temperatures in much of the Atlantic may fuel exceptionally strong hurricanes with heavier rainfall.

“All the ingredients are definitely in place to have an active season,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service, a division of NOAA.

Scientists have linked rising ocean temperatures to climate change and warned of an increased risk for higher-intensity storms that can affect both inland and coastal communities. In addition, rising sea levels, also linked to climate change, make shoreline areas more vulnerable to storm surges.

Graham stressed the importance of preparedness and said the forecast is reason to be “concerned, of course, but not alarmed.”

NOAA’s Atlantic hurricane outlook for 2024 represents the largest number of storms ever forecast by the agency for a single season. (Courtesy NOAA)

But Graham also noted the biggest hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. over the last 100 years came with only a couple of days’ warning. The average lead time was just 50 hours, he said, leaving limited time for people to prepare. “The big ones are fast,” he said.

Last year, NOAA predicted 14-21 total named storms in the Atlantic, with two to five developing into major hurricanes. The agency’s predictions were on the mark: The season featured 20 named storms, including seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

Atlantic tropical cyclone storm names for 2024 (Courtesy NOAA)
Atlantic tropical cyclone storm names for 2024 (Courtesy NOAA)

The only hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. last year, Idalia, hit near Keaton Beach, Florida, on Aug. 30. The storm caused widespread flooding in Florida and throughout the southeast.

Even though most tropical storms stayed offshore, they caused nearly $5 billion in damage, according to NOAA’s director, Rick Spinrad. Spinrad described this year’s forecast as “extraordinary,” and warned that high sea surface temperatures can lead to rapid intensification of storms.

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