ORLANDO, Fla. — While still more than 10 weeks away, hurricane season 2020 is already showing signs of being a year flooded by storms.
El Niño, the large series of climate changes seen in the Pacific Ocean, has a profound effect on deterring and enabling a prolific Atlantic hurricane season.
Think Punxsutawney Phil, but with actual power and influence.
So far, westerly winds from El Niño have been weak, according to the Climate Prediction Center, and that spells troubling signs for the upcoming hurricane season, said Jayme King, FOX 35 meteorologist.
“Early indications show El Niño may not be of a sufficient magnitude to keep storms at bay this year,” King said.
The westerly winds produced by El Niño act as a preventative measure from tropical storms forming. One of the key elements to tropical development is low intensity of upper-level wind shear, or disruptive winds in the atmosphere, King said. When wind levels are low, a moist environment is ripe for pressure build-up which eventually can yield a tropical system.
“If we don’t see the westerlies that El Niño produces, which help rip up storms and keep them away from Florida, we could see storms develop,” King said. “Time will tell. (El Niño) is kind of the savior for hurricane season. We like to see that sheer.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The Atlantic still has another secret weapon that it perhaps depends on more during the incoming 2020 season in the form of the “Saharan Air Layer.”
The SAL is a light brown plume of dry dust whipping off the land mass of Africa and into the atmosphere, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. The dry dust travels thousands of miles over the Atlantic and acts as a protective shield from around Florida and the Caribbean from hurricanes, which require moist air to develop, King said. As a result the SAL chokes off a tropical system’s ability to develop.
The 2019 hurricane season, which closed Nov. 30, was more active than most years, and featured the devastating Hurricane Dorian, which matched a record with its 185 mph winds as the strongest-ever recorded for a storm that made landfall.
There were 20 organized storms in 2019, with 18 earning names, but none of them made landfall in Florida, although some came close. Of all named storms, six developed into hurricanes.
NOAA predicted in May a likely range of nine to 15 named storms of which four to eight were predicted to become hurricanes including two to four major hurricanes.
©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)