Many Floridians ask the same question each time a new year comes around – what will this year’s hurricane season be like? The state got lucky in 2019. The closest call was Hurricane Dorian, but that storm thankfully turned north at the last minute.
Although we should still have a bit of a break ahead of us – hurricane season generally runs from June through November – it’s never too early to start planning.
Here are some of the factors that may impact the severity of the 2020 hurricane season in Florida.
You might not think land-locked Colorado would be a valuable resource when it comes to hurricane analysis, but the annual reports that come out of CSU’s Tropical Meteorology Project are some of the earliest estimates of the upcoming hurricane season available to the general public.
Their preliminary analysis was released on December 12, 2019, with their more comprehensive hurricane season predictions arriving April 2, 2020.
Their December report lists out possible scenarios, all of which vary based on the potential strength of the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO) and whether 2020 is another El Niño year.
The AMO is essentially a fancy word for the climate cycle that plays a large role in sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic – where our hurricanes originate. Higher water surface temperatures lead to more hurricanes.
El Niño and La Niña are essentially counter climate conditions based on the temperature of the tropical (around the equator) Pacific Ocean. You can read one of our past blogs to learn more about El Niño’s somewhat counterintuitive effect on our hurricane season in Florida.
To oversimplify what is a really complex climate system, during an El Niño year the surface temperature of the tropical Pacific is hotter than normal, and during a La Niña year the temperature of the Pacific is below normal.
CSU’s predictions vary based on whether the surface temperature of the Northern Atlantic is going to be far above normal, slightly above normal or below normal and whether we have another El Niño year.
There are two sets of conditions that could cause the most likely scenario:
The first of those two sets of conditions has a 20 percent chance and the second has a 25 percent chance, meaning there’s a roughly 45 percent chance we’ll experience one of those two scenarios.
If the Pacific is warm and the Atlantic is cold that’s good news for Florida, the Southeast U.S. and the Caribbean. We’re unlikely to get that lucky, but it’s still too early to definitively make a prediction either way.
An average hurricane season features 10.1 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.5 major hurricanes. The most likely scenario will put Florida pretty much in line with a normal hurricane season.
CSU’s report was predicting a relatively average year in April 2017 with 11 named storms, 4 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. That year turned out to be anything but normal with Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Mariah and Hurricane Irma carving out swathes of destruction across the southeast United States and Puerto Rico. By the end of the 2017 there had been 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and 6 major hurricanes.
We can hope for the best, but these predictions are never guarantees, so make sure your family is prepared for the worst.