‘800-pound gorillas’ in Gulf of Mexico that could intensify hurricanes this season

Forecasters predict a busy 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, with a 65 percent chance of an above-average season. There is also a wildcard in this mix that increases the risk of more severe storms in the Gulf of Mexico this year.

14 to 21 tropical storms could grow strong enough to be named this season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in its season outlook summary, released today. The average Atlantic hurricane season, which begins on June 1, typically has about 14 named storms. Another prominent forecast from Colorado State University forecast 19 named storms this year.

NOAA expects six to 10 storms to strengthen hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has also forecast three to six major hurricanes, categorized as Category 3 or higher with sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour.

There is also a worrying development in the Gulf of Mexico. The Ring Current, a stream of warm water, has moved abruptly to the far north at this time of year. The current, which flows like a river into the sea, brings warmer waters from the Caribbean to cooler waters near the American Gulf Coast. This is particularly worrying news for this season Because hurricanes fuel thermal energy.

“It’s a high-octane fuel,” says Nick Shay, professor of oceanography at the University of Miami. “It’s an 800-pound gorilla in the bay.”

Shay worries that the current behavior of the Loop Current appears similar to the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season — when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma swept through the Gulf Coast communities.

“In 2005, we had what’s known as a hurricane trifecta in the Gulf of Mexico,” Shay says. Katrina and Rita explosively developed into Category 5 storms after crossing paths with the warmer Loop Current waters. Hurricanes Ida in 2021 and Harvey in 2017 were also strengthened by the annular current.

Loop Current water is also much saltier. Differences in temperature and salinity between the annular current and the rest of the bay limit mixing of ocean waters, which would normally lower surface temperatures.

As a result, the current retains heat at much deeper depths than the surrounding bay. Water temperatures of 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the stream can reach 500 feet below the surface. Outside the stream, these temperatures usually reach just 100 feet below the surface. “It’s a big difference,” Shay says.

But Shay cautions that it’s too soon to tell if something similar to 2005 could happen this season. It will depend on whether any storms are moving toward the annular stream (or toward large circular pools of hot water emerging from the stream, called eddies). Whether the annular current is able to successfully overcharge the storms will also depend on whether storms form during it. Favorable weather conditions and low wind shear.

Strong, intense winds, and changes in wind speed and direction, can destabilize or weaken a storm. But a weather pattern called La Niña is expected to keep wind shear low throughout the hurricane season, a factor that could increase the chances of stronger storms.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also noted “enhanced” West African monsoon rains affecting this year’s Atlantic season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says in its forecast for the season that the West African monsoon, a major wind system, can lead to stronger easterly waves “which herald many of the strongest and longest-lived cyclones during most seasons.”

Stronger hurricanes are expected to become more common as climate change warms the world’s oceans. Warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Caribbean are also likely to boost hurricane activity this season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said today.

There is also evidence that hurricanes have begun to intensify more quickly and maintain their strength longer after making landfall as global average temperatures rise. Shay says the warm eddies of the Loop Current appear to hold more heat than in the past, although scientists are not yet able to determine the cause.

If NOAA’s 2022 forecast comes true, it will be the seventh consecutive season above normal for the Atlantic.

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