With ocean temperatures reaching record highs, the 2023 hurricane season was anticipated to be a tumultuous one. Hot waters serve as the energy source for tropical cyclones such as hurricanes and typhoons, and the elevated temperatures have led meteorologists to revise their forecasts upward, anticipating more intense tropical storms worldwide.The Atlantic Ocean’s water temperatures have climbed to levels unseen since at least 1981, with certain coastal waters in the United States, like those bordering Florida, achieving temperatures reminiscent of a hot tub, surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Despite these conditions, an unexpected factor is moderating the severity of weather patterns—El Niño, a powerful climatic phenomenon, is currently active in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño’s cyclic occurrences, which vary from every two to seven years, bring about ripple effects that reshape global weather patterns. Over the Atlantic, El Niño tends to hinder the formation of hurricanes.In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projected a “near normal” Atlantic hurricane season due to the interplay between warm waters and destabilized air from El Niño. The initial prediction forecasted 12 to 17 named storms, with the potential for one to four major hurricanes.
However, recent developments indicate that the battle between elevated water temperatures and turbulent air is swaying in favor of the former. On August 10, NOAA updated its stance, highlighting that the record-breaking warm waters were gaining the upper hand. The agency now predicts “an above-normal level of activity” for the remainder of the hurricane season. The new forecast estimates between 14 to 21 named storms, of which two to five could intensify into major hurricanes, boasting winds exceeding 111 miles per hour.
This situation underscores the challenge faced by forecasters in anticipating the unforeseen, as air and water temperatures globally are reaching unprecedented levels. Notably, this year has already witnessed unique occurrences, such as Tropical storms Bret and Cindy forming in the Caribbean—an unprecedented event of two tropical storms materializing in June, a phenomenon unrecorded since data collection commenced in 1851. This suggests that the oceans were already significantly heated early in the season.In addition to these changes, NOAA scientists are currently testing a novel system to improve the prediction of one of the most perilous aspects of hurricanes.