2022 St Maarten Hurricane Season Likely To Be Worse This Year. Chance Of Monster Storms High

2022 St Maarten Hurricane Season Likely To Be Worse This Year. Chance Of Monster Storms High

Why the approaching hurricane season is likely to get even worse this year (and the chance of monster storms is higher)

The Atlantic hurricane season kicks off on June 1, and the water in the Gulf of Mexico is already warmer than average. Even more concerning is a current of warm tropical water that flows unusually far into the Gulf for this time of year. And that so-called Loop Current has the power to turn tropical storms into monster hurricanes.

When the Loop Current moves so far north this early in the hurricane season — especially during what’s expected to be a busy hurricane season — it could spell disaster for people living along the northern Gulf Coast, from Texas to Florida.

2022 St Maarten Hurricane Season Likely To Be Worse This Year. Chance Of Monster Storms High

If you look at temperature maps of the Gulf of Mexico, you can easily see the Loop Current. It meanders through the Yucatan Channel between Mexico and Cuba, into the Gulf of Mexico, then winds back through the Florida Straits south of Florida as the Florida Current.

When a tropical storm moves over the Loop Current or one of its giant eddies — large rotating pools of warm water that spin away from the current — the storm can explode in strength as it draws energy from the warm water.

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2022 St Maarten Hurricane Season Likely To Be Worse This Year. Chance Of Monster Storms High

2005

This year, the Loop Current is remarkably similar to 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina crossed the Loop Current before devastating New Orleans. Of the 27 major storms that year, seven became major hurricanes. Wilma and Rita also crossed the Loop Current that year, becoming two of the most intense Atlantic hurricanes ever.

The conditions scientists see in the Gulf in May 2022 are cause for concern. 19 tropical storms – 32% more than average – and nine hurricanes are expected for this year. The Loop Current has the potential to seriously charge some of those storms.

Warm ocean waters don’t necessarily mean more tropical storms. But once tropical storms reach waters around 26°C or warmer, they can strengthen into hurricanes.

Hurricanes get most of their strength from the ocean’s top 100 feet of water. Normally, these upper ocean waters mix, allowing warm spots to cool quickly. But the Loop Current’s subtropical waters are deeper and warmer (and also saltier) than the regular Gulf waters. These things inhibit the cooling of the sea surface, allowing the warm current and its eddies to trap heat to great depths.

2022 St Maarten Hurricane Season Likely To Be Worse This Year. Chance Of Monster Storms High

Hurricane Ida

In mid-May 2022, satellite data showed that the Loop Current had water temperatures of 25.5°C or warmer, down to about 100 meters. In the summer, that heat can extend to about 150 meters.

The vortex that fueled Hurricane Ida in 2021 was more than 30°C on the surface and was abnormally warm to 180 meters deep. With favorable atmospheric conditions, this deep heat reservoir helped the storm explode into a very powerful and dangerous Category 4 hurricane almost overnight.

Within a storm, warm ocean water can create towering plumes of rising warm, moist air, fueling high-octane hurricanes. As more moisture and heat rise in a hurricane, the pressure drops. The horizontal pressure difference from the center of the storm to the periphery then causes the wind to accelerate, making the hurricane increasingly dangerous.

Because the Loop Current and its vortices have so much heat, they don’t cool down significantly and the pressure will continue to drop. In 2005, Hurricane Wilma had the lowest central pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic, and Rita and Katrina weren’t far behind.

2022 St Maarten Hurricane Season Likely To Be Worse This Year. Chance Of Monster Storms High

La Nina

Forecasters have other clues about how the hurricane season could be shaping up. One of these is La Niña, the weather effect opposite to El Niño. During La Niña, stronger trade winds in the Pacific bring colder water to the surface, creating conditions that help push the jet stream further north. That tends to exacerbate the drought in the southern US and weaken wind shear there as well. Wind shear includes the change in wind speeds and wind directions with height. Too much wind shear can tear tropical storms apart. But less wind shear, courtesy of La Niña, and more moisture in the atmosphere could mean more hurricanes.

La Niña was unusually strong in the spring of 2022, although it is possible that it will weaken later in the year, allowing for more wind shear towards the end of the season. But for now, the upper atmosphere does little that would stop a hurricane from intensifying.

It’s too early to say what will happen to the steering winds that guide tropical storms and influence where they go. Even before then, conditions over West Africa are critical to whether or not tropical storms develop in the Atlantic. Dust from the Sahara and low humidity can both reduce the chance of storms.

2022 St Maarten Hurricane Season Likely To Be Worse This Year. Chance Of Monster Storms High

Global warming

As the temperature on Earth rises, the temperature of the ocean rises. Much of the heat retained by greenhouse gases released by human activities is stored in the oceans, where it can provide additional fuel for hurricanes.

Studies suggest the Atlantic is likely to see more storms progress to major hurricanes as those temperatures rise, although there won’t necessarily be more storms overall. A study examined the 2020 hurricane season — which has a record 30 — and found that the storms produced more rain than in a world without the effects of human-induced climate change.

Another trend is that the Loop Current’s warm vortices have more heat than we saw 10 to 15 years ago. Whether that has to do with global warming is not yet clear, but its impact could be devastating.

2022 St Maarten Hurricane Season Likely To Be Worse This Year. Chance Of Monster Storms High
2022 St Maarten Hurricane Season Likely To Be Worse This Year. Chance Of Monster Storms High
2022 St Maarten Hurricane Season Likely To Be Worse This Year. Chance Of Monster Storms High
2022 St Maarten Hurricane Season Likely To Be Worse This Year. Chance Of Monster Storms High

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2022 St Maarten Hurricane Season Likely To Be Worse This Year. Chance Of Monster Storms High

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