Atlantic Hurricane Season
Forecast 2024

The 2023 hurricane season ended with 20 named storms, including one unnamed subtropical storm that formed in January.  There were 7 hurricanes, 3 of which became intense hurricanes. The Azores-Bermuda high pressure center was weaker and located farther east than normal, which allowed for most of the storms to turn northward before reaching the Caribbean Sea.

The primary land impact came from Hurricane Idalia, which formed near western Cuba in late August and struck northern Florida on August 30th as a Category 3 hurricane with max sustained wind near 115 mph.  However, it is possible that Idalia was weaker at landfall, as there were no direct wind observations available.

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A Return of La Nina

The El Niño, a warming of the Tropical Pacific which prevailed in 2023, has faded fast. Water temperatures in the tropical Pacific are now dropping to below normal levels. Current models indicate that there is an 80% chance or greater that a La Niña will develop over the summer. During a La Niña, hurricane activity is suppressed in the East Pacific, but development is enhanced in the Atlantic. This will be an enhancing factor for Atlantic hurricane activity this season.

Atlantic Water Temperatures – Very Warm

Water temperatures and oceanic heat content across the Tropical Atlantic from the Caribbean Sea to Africa remain well above normal for this time of year. In fact, water temperatures in the Tropical Atlantic are already close to what would be expected in June or July. The warmer the water and the higher the oceanic heat content, the greater the potential for hurricanes to become stronger. This warm water could also allow for development east of the Caribbean earlier in the season than normal, if wind shear is low enough to allow for development there.

Analog Seasons

An analog season is a season in the past with a similar setup of ocean temperatures and atmospheric flow patterns to what we are seeing at present. The thinking is that if the current state of the tropics closely matches that of a year in the past, then seasonal activity this season could be somewhat similar to the activity in the analog season in terms of numbers and tracks. For the May update, we have identified six analog seasons. Those seasons are 1995, 1998, 2010, 2011, 2020, and 2021. Together, these seasons averaged a total of 20 named storms with 10 hurricanes and 5 intense hurricanes. That’s well above the 30-year climatological average of 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 intense hurricanes. Analog seasons indicate an increased risk to the islands of the northeast Caribbean, the western Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the East U.S. Coast. Basically, most areas appear to be at an above-normal risk of a hurricane impact this season.

European Model Forecast

The May European model outlook is for a total of 22.8 named storms with 12.8 of them becoming hurricanes. The average number of named storms during this period is 14.2 with 7 of them becoming hurricanes. The forecast is about well above normal activity. A forecast of 23 named storms with 13 hurricanes is the most bullish forecast that we have ever seen from the European model. In addition, the model predicts a high density of tracks across the northwest Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and off the Southeast U.S. Coast.

May Forecast

If anything, the signals that were pointing to a very active hurricane season have increased over the past month. Cool water temperature anomalies in the East and Central Pacific have developed over a large area. This is a sign that La Niña will almost certainly develop this summer. A La Niña pattern would inhibit hurricane activity in the Pacific while enhancing hurricane activity in the Tropical Atlantic. Models are predicting significantly enhanced rainfall across the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Tropical Atlantic all season long. The Caribbean Sea had been rather quiet in recent seasons due to dry, sinking air. That may not be the case this summer. Predictions of enhanced rainfall indicate a greater risk of hurricane activity in these areas.

One remaining question is whether the Azores-Bermuda High will be stronger than last season, as some models are predicting. This high center acts as a steering mechanism for developing storms in the Main Development Region east of the Caribbean. For the past several seasons, that high has been relatively weak, allowing many of the hurricanes to turn northward before reaching the Caribbean Sea. A stronger high center would tend to steer developing storms farther west and into the Caribbean. Latest models indicate that the Bermuda High will be stronger. This would pose an increasing risk of a hurricane landfall across all of the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the southeast U.S. coast.

For 2024, we are increasing our predicted numbers of named storms to 23, with 12 hurricanes, including 6 intense hurricanes. Just about all areas will have an above-normal risk of a hurricane impact. In particular, the islands of the northeast Caribbean and the southeast U.S. from the middle Gulf Coast to the Carolinas may have a well above-normal risk of a hurricane impact. If wind shear across the Deep Tropics is not too high, then we could see early hurricane development east of the Caribbean Sea. Normally, the date of the first hurricane is in early August. This year, the first hurricane could form in June.

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