Any hope of a quiet hurricane season amid the coronavirus pandemic appears to be decreasing by the day.
Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has the possibility of being extremely active and will likely be more active than normal — at the least.
The environmental agency released the information during a news conference on Thursday morning. Its forecast predicts there will be 13 to 19 named storms, with six to 10 of those reaching hurricane status. The forecast also predicted that three to six of those storms will become major hurricanes, which are categorized as a 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale.
“It’s expected to be a busy one,” said Gerry Bell, the lead forecaster with the agency’s Climate Prediction Center. “We’re not seeing anything that would indicate a likelihood for a below-average season."
Hurricane season is officially from June 1 to Nov. 30. The season began early this year, however, as Tropical Storm Arthur became the first named storm of the season last week when it was upgraded from a tropical depression.
The agency’s outlook predicts a 60 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 30 percent chance of a near-normal season and only a 10 percent chance of a below-normal season. There were 18 named storms, six hurricanes and three major ones in 2019, which confirmed early predictions of an above-normal season a year ago.
If predictions for the 2020 season are true, it would be the fifth season in a row to eclipse the average of 12 storms and six hurricanes in a season.
“This would pass the previous record of four (active seasons in a row) set in 1998 to 2001,″ said Bell. “Needless to say, the active hurricane era that began in 1995 continues.”
Bell said the active forecast was based on a number of factors, including warmer waters, weaker trade winds and the absence of El Niño, which causes wind shear that tears storms apart as they form in the Atlantic. An above-average West African monsoon season and record-warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico are also factors.
Bell said climate change also will play a part in how the storms affect us when they form.
“There are issues with global warming,” Bell said. “There’s rising ocean temperatures. Warmer waters mean higher sea levels. Higher sea levels mean more storm (flooding). Now, with our coastlines so built up over the past couple of decades, there are potentially more people in harm’s way each time a hurricane threatens.”
The forecast aligns closely with another respected hurricane forecast, released annually by scientists at Colorado State University. In the university’s preliminary forecast, it predicted 16 named storms, with eight becoming hurricanes and four becoming major hurricanes.
Also a part of Thursday’s news conference was Carlos Castillo, the acting deputy administrator for resilience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Castillo said the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season will be unprecedented in how evacuations occur. With the coronavirus pandemic, he said people in an evacuation zone will be encouraged to evacuate to a friend or family member’s house outside of the zone.
This way shelters, which will be at lower capacity so they can enforce social distancing, can have room for those with no other place to go.
“Shelters are meant to keep you safe but not necessarily comfortable," Castillo said. "It’s preferable to go to someone’s home if possible.”
Wildfires in Florida’s Panhandle caused voluntary evacuations in Santa Rosa County this month. Hotels were used to house evacuees while still enforcing social distancing, according to Brad Baker, the emergency management director for the county.
Castillo said that hotels have been discussed as a way to shelter evacuees, but they cannot be relied on exclusively in the case of a major hurricane.
“We can’t just count on hotel rooms,” Castillo said. “There are too many people. That’s why I encourage people to go somewhere else (out of the evacuation zone) if possible.”