December 3, 2022

Atlantic hurricane season 2022 is expected to be above average

File photo: In 2021, residents drove north (L) Magnolia, Mississippi, as they evacuated away from New Orleans ahead of Hurricane Ida. — © AFP

Potential trouble is brewing in the Gulf of Mexico for the coming Atlantic hurricane season, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

NOAA is saying there is a 70 percent chance the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which starts on June 1 and ends Nov. 30, will bring 14 to 21 named storms, or storms with winds of 39 mph (63 km/h) or higher; six to 10 hurricanes with winds of 74 mph (119 km/h) or greater; and three to six major hurricanes, with winds of 111 mph (179 km/h).

Only 21 names starting with the letters A through W are given to storms each year before Greek letters are assigned instead. The first storm of the year will be named Alex and the next four will be named Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, and Earl, according to the National Hurricane Center.

There is a real possibility that all 21 names will be used for the third year in a row. In 2021, we had 21 storms and in 2020, a record-breaking 30 storms formed. NOAA also notes that this will be the seventh year in a row that the hurricane season will be more active than usual.

What about that potential trouble?

The temperature of the water in the Gulf of Mexico can play an important role in the formation and intensity of tropical storms, however, that is just part of the story, according to Yale Climate Connections.

When a hurricane moves across a shallow area of warm ocean waters, its powerful winds will churn up cold waters from the depths, cooling the surface and putting the brakes on any rapid intensification the hurricane may have had. 

But when unusually warm ocean waters extend to a great depth, 100 meters or more below the surface, the hurricane’s churning winds simply stir up more warm water, allowing dangerous rapid intensification to occur if the wind shear is low.

Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) for the Gulf of Mexico in mid-May were 27-28 degrees Celsius (81-82° F) across most of the Gulf, 0.5 to 1.5 degrees Celsius (0.9-2.7°F) above the 1981-2010 average. That’s a lot of heat energy for potential hurricanes to feast on.

The map shows the water temperature in the coastal cities of the Gulf of Mexico in real-time, on May 28, 2022. Source – Sea Temperature Information

The Gulf of Mexico can and sometimes does get a lot warmer than it is now. For example, an extended heatwave in the southeastern part of the U.S. could make for near record-warm levels during the peak part of hurricane season.

The Loop Current has fueled major storms

Besides seawater temperatures playing a role in the intensity of tropical storms, we have to take into account the Loop Current—an ocean current that transports warm Caribbean water through the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico. 

The current flows northward into the Gulf of Mexico, loops southeastward just south of the Florida Keys, and becomes the Florida current. then, as it continues to the west, the waters of the Loop Current end up flowing northward along the U.S. coast and become the Gulf Stream.

But, examination of the latest mid-May 2022 Loop Current imagery reveals a major bulge in the current, which is bringing a large area of water with high ocean heat content to the Gulf. 

Loop current in the Gulf of Mexico. The Loop Current is clearly visible in yellow at center-right. Source – NOAA Office of Satellite and Product Operations

The movement of the current is random, dictated by a bunch of different factors like salinity and water temperature as well as basic fluid dynamics. But notably, the current is much higher up into the Gulf this year than usual, reports Gizmodo.

When the Loop Current reaches this far north this early in the hurricane season – especially during what’s forecast to be a busy season – it can be cause for concern.

This year reports Scientific American, the Loop Current looks remarkably similar to the way it did in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina crossed the Loop Current before devastating New Orleans.,