Why Has Hurricane Season Started So Slowly? — Weather “Whys” For Kids

Why Has Hurricane Season Started So Slowly? — Weather “Whys” For Kids

Late August, 2018.

We are less than two weeks away from the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season.  It’s a warming world, storm activity seemingly is on the rise every year, and Hawaii almost got a direct hit from a tropical cyclone.

But in the Atlantic & the Caribbean, it has been quiet.  Very quiet  What’s going on?

A Very Slow Start In 2018

Even though it’s almost September, I bet some folks on the East Coast and along the Gulf Of Mexico are wondering, “Has hurricane season even started yet?”.  That’s a fair question, but the simple answer is:  Yes, it has!  The number of large storms (the ones that would fill up your news feed on your phone or would light up Twitter & Facebook) has been zero, but there have been five named storms so far in the Atlantic Basin.  Here’s a recap of each storm:

*ALBERTO – A sub-tropical storm that did cause $125M in damage in Mexico & the Caribbean as a big rain-maker in late May.

*BERYL – Quickly became a Category 1 hurricane but became disorganized and was not a tropical system as it moved through the Caribbean.

*CHRIS – Developed into a Category 2 hurricane off the East Coast but quickly lost power and stayed over open waters.

*DEBBY – A tropical storm that never threatened land, as it remained out in the North Atlantic Ocean.

*ERNESTO – Another North Atlantic tropical storm that did bring heavy rain to England & Ireland.

Given that we’re used to very active storm seasons, the list I just wrote is rather unimpressive.  Not much has happened at all.

But why?

Ocean Water Is Running COLD  

There are two main reasons why hurricane activity is below-average this year, and the more obvious of the two is that the ocean temperature in the part of the Atlantic where many storms form is much colder than average.  In fact, the area I circled in the image on the right is experiencing the coldest summer in more than two decades.  This is a big deal.

Ocean temperature matters because a tropical system gets much of its energy from the warm water below it.  The warm ocean water is literally fuel for the hurricane.  Typically, if the water under a tropical system is above 80 degrees, it’s able to grow in strength.  The opposite is true with ocean water 79 degrees or cooler.  The ocean water in the Atlantic is simply not warm enough to support lots of storms and their growth.

Other Factors, Too, Like El Niño

Another weather factor that is likely keeping hurricane activity low in the Atlantic basin is the emergence of El Niño.  Even though El Niño (warm water in the equatorial Pacific Ocean) happens far away, its impacts are felt over a wide area.  One of those impacts is an increase in upper-level winds over the tropical Atlantic.  This is also called wind shear.  Hurricanes prefer a “low” wind shear environment if they’re going to grow stronger.  An El Niño pattern does the opposite.  High amounts of wind shear teamed up with cooler-than-average ocean water is a strong “one-two punch” against a busy storm season.

 

But All It Takes Is ONE…

September 1, 2018, will represent the middle of the 2018 hurricane season.  There’s still a LONG way to go.  And for anyone who thinks it’s time to write off this year as being a “quiet” storm season, please let me remind you of the 1992 hurricane season.

If you just look at the numbers, it was the “quietest” hurricane season in a generation.  There were only 6 named storms and only 4 hurricanes.  On paper, that’s quiet.

But all of that goes out the window when I remind you of the first named storm of the season, which amazingly didn’t happen until late August:  Hurricane Andrew.

Andrew leveled a good chunk of South Florida, and nearly wiped the city of Homestead, FL, off the map.  It destroyed more than 63,000 houses and caused more than $27 Billion in damage.  The numbers said it was a quiet season, but reality screamed otherwise.

All it takes is one big storm to make it a “bad” hurricane season.

Summary

Yes, we can all be thankful that the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season is off to a very slow start.  But we have a long way to go, and one storm can change everything rather quickly.  Stay prepared!

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Image 1:  Courtesy NOAA

2nd Image:  Courtesy NOAA/NWS

Image 3:  Courtesy WeatherTopics.net

4th Image:  Courtesy National Weather Service