Hurricane Ian
An aerial view of Ft. Myers Beach, Florida taken after Hurricane Ian shows homes, businesses, and property destroyed by the storm.
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NOAA Predicts 'Extraordinary' Atlantic Hurricane Season as Ocean Temperatures Soar

"The fun-filled summer season has increasingly become a time of dread for the dangers that await," said one climate scientist.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned Thursday that it expects "above-normal hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin this year" due to rising ocean temperatures related to the climate emergency and La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean.

"NOAA's outlook for the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season, which spans from June 1 to November 30, predicts an 85% chance of an above-normal season, a 10% chance of a near-normal season, and a 5% chance of a below-normal season," the agency—which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce—said in a statement.

Rick Spinrad, who heads NOAA, said the agency is bracing for an "extraordinary" Atlantic hurricane season.

NOAA is forecasting between 17 and 25 total named storms—which have winds of 39 mph or higher—with 8-13 of these predicted to become hurricanes, which have winds of 74 mph or higher. The agency is predicting 4-7 major hurricanes, defined as having winds in excess of 111 mph. NOAA said forecasters have 70% confidence in these predictions.

"Of note, the forecast for named storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes is the highest NOAA has ever issued for the May outlook," Spinrad told reporters, adding that "the warmer ocean means it's a more energetic ocean."

The predicted increase in activity is "due to a confluence of factors, including near-record warm ocean temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, development of La Niña conditions in the Pacific, reduced Atlantic trade winds, and less wind shear, all of which tend to favor tropical storm formation," NOAA explained.

"As one of the strongest El Niños ever observed nears its end, NOAA scientists predict a quick transition to La Niña conditions, which are conducive to Atlantic hurricane activity because La Niña tends to lessen wind shear in the tropics," the agency added. "At the same time, abundant oceanic heat content in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea creates more energy to fuel storm development."

Florida meteorologist Michael Lowry, the hurricane specialist at WPLG in Miami, wrote Wednesday for Yale Climate Connections that "waters across the Atlantic's tropical belt—extending from the coast of Africa through the Caribbean—are hotter now than in any other late May on record, with over 90% of the area's sea surface engulfed in record or near-record warmth."

"The extent of marine heat has never been greater heading into a hurricane season, outpacing by wide margins the previous late May record-holder in 2005, a year remembered for one of the most active and destructive hurricane seasons in modern history." Among those storms was Hurricane Katrina.

Ocean temperatures are soaring as policymakers around the world continue to not only resist phasing out the fossil fuels driving the planetary emergency but also expand oil, gas, and coal development. Many coastal communities are unprepared for the extreme weather events that are increasing as air and sea temperatures rise.

"As a climate scientist that tracks hurricane activity, I recognize that the fun-filled summer season has increasingly become a time of dread for the dangers that await," Astrid Caldas, a senior climate scientist for community resilience at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Thursday. "The people and places that have found themselves in the path of a tropical storm can attest to its utter and enduring devastation, which often hits communities of color and low-income communities the hardest."

"U.S. coastal communities are tired of crossing their fingers and hoping these storms of epic, record-breaking proportions veer away from their homes, dissipate, or spin out over the Atlantic," Caldas added. "It's imperative that local, state, and federal policymakers and emergency planners help keep communities safe by prioritizing investments to get homes, businesses, and infrastructure in frontline communities climate-ready and be prepared to ensure a quick and just recovery should disaster strike. Reining in heat-trapping emissions driving the climate crisis is also essential."

According to NOAA, there were 28 billion-dollar natural disasters in the United States alone last year—an unwelcome new record that cost Americans at least $92.9 billion.

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