Ecocentric

Tornadoes Were Just the Beginning. This Hurricane Season Is Going to be Stormy

The tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma may have caused more than $2 billion in damages. But that could pale in comparison to the destruction coming our way this hurricane season.

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Photo by NASA via Getty Images

A satellite image of Hurricane Sandy as it approached the East Coast last year

The residents of Moore, Oklahoma are still cleaning up from the EF5 tornado that tore through their town on May 20. 24 people died in the twisters, and thousands of homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed. The total bill may come in at over $2 billion, which would make the Moore tornado the most expensive in American history.

So this may not be the best time, but the Moore tornado almost surely won’t be the last billion-dollar weather the U.S. faces in 2013. On Thursday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its annual outlook on the summer Atlantic hurricane season—and it is not good. Technically it will be “active or extremely active,” which is fine if you’re talking about a workout session, and less good if you’re projecting how many potentially devastating tropical storms will hit the U.S. mainland.

(MORE: Tornado Warning: Despite Oklahoma Alert, U.S. Weather Forecasting Service Needs Major Upgrades)

Altogether NOAA predicts a 70% likelihood that 13 to 20 named storms—which have winds that sustain at 39 mph or higher—will occur, of which 7 to 11 could become hurricanes (winds higher than 74 mph). Of those three to six may become major hurricanes, which means Category 3 to 5, with winds above 11 mph. That’s all well above the average for an Atlantic hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 to the end of November.

Why will this summer potentially be so stormy? For one, an atmospheric climate pattern, including a strong African monsoon, that’s been ongoing since 1995 will help supercharge the atmosphere for tropical storms. Warmer-than-average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea will lead to more of the wet, hot air that provides the fuel for hurricanes. And there is no El Nino—the alternating climate pattern that means unusually warm sea temperatures—which would usually suppress the formation of hurricanes.

It’s important to remember that NOAA is only predicting whether or not hurricanes and tropical storms will develop—not whether they will make landfall like Superstorm Sandy did last fall. Only three of the 19 named storms that formed in the Atlantic last year made enough of an impact on the U.S. to cause any real damage. Most storms form in the Atlantic and never leave. It’s not just the strength of a storm that makes it dangerous—it’s location.

Superstorm Sandy made that clear. By the time storm made landfall on the East Coast, it had actually weakened to the point that it was barely a hurricane at all, though it was an unusually massive and wet storm. Had it spun back out to sea, we never would have remembered its name. Instead, though, Sandy tore through the most populated and expensive property in the U.S., flooding parts of New York City and causing some $65 billion in damage. We can only imagine what kind of destruction it would have caused had Sandy been an even stronger storm.

(VIDEO: The 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season in 4.5 Minutes)

There’s no way of knowing how many of the storms to come this summer will indeed make landfall, but it stands to reason that the more storms that form, the greater the chance one will eventually end up in our backyard. According to NOAA, billion-dollar disasters are increasing in the U.S. at a rate of about 4.8% a year—there were 11 just last year. That’s mostly a result of economic growth—as the country gets richer, even with inflation, any weather disaster that disrupt the economy will cost more. But climate change is likely playing a role as well—in the case of hurricanes, warming temperatures seem to make storms stronger, and rising sea levels increase the threat of coastal flooding.

In any case, the growing danger from extreme weather just underlines the need to invest in forecasting, preparation and adaptation, as acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said:

With the devastation of Sandy fresh in our minds, and another active season predicted, everyone at NOAA is committed to providing life-saving forecasts in the face of these storms and ensuring that Americans are prepared and ready ahead of time.” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA acting administrator. “As we saw first-hand with Sandy, it’s important to remember that tropical storm and hurricane impacts are not limited to the coastline. Strong winds, torrential rain, flooding, and tornadoes often threaten inland areas far from where the storm first makes landfall.

Of course, if you really want to worry, remember that last year NOAA predict that the Atlantic hurricane season would be just a little above normal. It ended up being considerably more active. But there’s one thing we can be sure of—there won’t be another Hurricane Sandy. That name has been retired.

37 comments
pyramidgravityforce
pyramidgravityforce

For the Love of Mother Earth, start thinking about "Ancient Geo Engineering"......Like hello is everyone on this planet stupid enough to believe that the Pyramids are TOMBS?
Like Hello one more time for possible penetration into the dense minds of Earthlings The pyramids on the Giza plateau control the Hawaiian hot spot. Now why would a bunch of Highly advanced intelligent beings want to control a Volcano.? anyone.? yes you in the back.! what’s that you say? Thats correct....! did you hear that people.? Your not as stupid as you look down here after all. The semi bright human in the back said to control temperatures by controlling ASH discharge into the atmosphere. Very Good..Grass hopper! And how do we do this with Giza Plateau Pyramids on the approximate same latitude of the Hawaiian Hot Spot on the other side of the planet...? yes, yes, spit it out son! By gravity control..! very good, my son, very good, by gravity control, Now how do you disable a pyramid that was set up to control the temperatures on Earth? right again you open them up and turn them into amusement parks, And how do we place the pyramids back on line? yes, yes, Right again! We repair the damage CRAZY humans did to the Earths thermostats i.e. the Great Pyramids of Giza the book "Pyramid Gravity Force" the only answer to CLIMATE CHANGE!!!!!!!

gonzaleztania58082
gonzaleztania58082

I believe that we need worry about our ocean's subterranean, it's getting worse every season. As you can tell our, weather is not as predictable, we have oil rigdes to worry about too. I don't have any peace of mind with this natural disaster happening, there patterns our erupting closer and closer together.

gonzaleztania58082
gonzaleztania58082

I believe that we need worry about our ocean's subterranean, it's getting worse every season. As you can tell our, weather is not as predictable, it's changing.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

I love it when people connect Hurricane Sandy with "climate change" (the politically correct label of 'global warming').

Sandy was made more terrible, because it converged with a storm system that travelled out of Canada/Northern US.  Sandy on its own would have packed heavy rain and wind.  However, it was the convergence of two storm systems that made the devastation so bad.

RonVargo1
RonVargo1

I live in Florida. These guys have been predicting 'a very active hurricane season' every year for the past six years. If they get it correct this time, should I be impressed?

nathankindcurrier
nathankindcurrier

Hi, Bryan - Thanks for the piece, and sorry for the previous comments, mostly either irrelevant (typos, etc.) or denialist stuff. On the other hand, what is so completely absent in the media, as it begins to try more and more to relate the granular experience of everyday life and weather, to the more abstract thing we call climate, and the 'forcings'  (what a climate scientist calls those perturbations of the planetary energy balance) that alter that climate, is the strict limitation on what we can do for the time being to mitigate what we are experiencing in the here and now. 

I have a new article in Huffington Post -  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-currier/hate-the-increases-in-storms-and-heat_b_3304490.html which tries to describe, as I have in the past, with lots of references and in more or less plain language, that in fact the only way to impact the kinds of changes we are feeling now, five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now, and even 30 years from now, is through non-CO2 reductions. 

Now, of course, that isn't saying that we don't need massive CO2 cuts - we obviously do, since we want to have a world after 30 years. But there's now a robust body of research showing that the so-called "short-lived climate forcers" or SLCFs, could actually help us with what we are feeling,  and suffering from, these days. Clearly, the bigger challenge in the end will be getting off of CO2, but we can't ignore non-CO2 any longer, as we start to feel the effects of warming more and more. It's really something that the media starts to educate people about.

At the end of my piece, I quote something that Jim Hansen said to me - in fact it was at a meeting in September that you were moderating, and I hope that you will appreciate the odd position we are all in: here he's telling me that he wants to be talking about what my new HuffPost piece is about, but has been afraid to. Maybe you could help him by doing more of that yourself? 

bfulton47
bfulton47

Bryan - you're billed as a senior editor at Time, but do you bother to edit / proof read your own articles?  'Category 3 to 5, with winds above 11 mph'? Informative article, but these types of errors make you loose credibility.

Palerider1957
Palerider1957

Yeah, yeah, yeah.
We have heard this every year for 20 years. The only hurricanes that came close to these dire warnings of impending doom due to "climate change"would be Katrina. These scare tactics have proven FALSE every year.
Which tells me a few things.
#1. The 35,000 Scientists that claim that global freezing (70's), global warming 80's -90's), climate change (present) is a HOAX!! 100%, unadulterated, unmitigated CRAP!
Oh, and go ahead and tell me about "Frankenstorm" Sandy, which had dissipated to a TROPICAL STORM before it EVER hit land!! I I was in the path of and rode Sandy out. Wanna see some pictures?
#2. Time continues on the path of fear politics and lies.

tahoeweatherguy
tahoeweatherguy

Bryan you've got it wrong when you say El Nino conditions suppress hurricanes because of warmer than normal sea surface temperatures.  As you explained in the previous sentence, warmer ocean temps fuel and strengthen storms. El Nino events suppress Atlantic hurricanes because it enhances the subtropical westerly winds which makes it harder for low pressure systems originating off the west coast of Africa to organize into hurricanes due to wind shear.  Senior writer?

dpcm99
dpcm99

Not for nothing, but a category 3 hurricane is equivalent to an EF 2 tornado over your neighborhood for a couple of hours.

Piacevole
Piacevole

"Winds above 11 mph?"  Gee, that would really be terrible.  Or a typo.