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Warm Ocean Expected To Cook Up A Busy 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Dorian lashed Florida as it stalled over the Bahamas last year, marking the fourth consecutive year with an above-average number of storms. Forecasters say 2020 will be another busy year.
Dorian lashed Florida as it stalled over the Bahamas last year, marking the fourth consecutive year with an above-average number of storms. Forecasters say 2020 will be another busy year.

Don’t look for any favors from this year’s hurricane season.

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In its annual preseason forecast Thursday, Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project called for another busy season and the fifth in a row. Meteorologist Phil Klotzbach said warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures and low odds for an El Nino weather pattern are likely to keep the Atlantic percolating again, with 16 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes, with winds topping 111 mph.

An average year produces just 12 named storms and fewer than three major hurricanes.

"We do not think we're going to have El Nino conditions this summer and fall. When that occurs, it tends to increase upper level westerly winds that tear apart hurricanes in the Atlantic," Klotzbach said. "Also the Atlantic, right now, is running warmer than normal. Warmer Atlantic temperatures mean more fuel for storms."

According to the forecast that uses probabilities, the entire U.S. coast has a 69 percent chance of getting hit, 17 percent higher than the average over the last century. Odds for landfall along the east coast, including Florida, are 45 percent, about 14 percent higher than the average.

The model uses 38 years of observational data and looks at historical relationships between climate patterns, Klotbach said.

"If you look back in the past, you can see that you tend to have one set of atmospheric patterns for active seasons and a different set before inactive seasons," he said. "So we build models that are based on these historical relationships between weather and climate patterns and observed levels of hurricane activity."

The strategy was developed by Klotzbach's mentor, Paul Gray, considered the dean of seasonal forecasts after issuing his first in 1984, which took a global approach to cyclone predictions. 

Thursday’s forecast for a busy season follows four punishing years, starting with 2016. The season produced 15 named storms and the first hurricane to hit Florida in a decade.  The following year generated some of the Atlantic's most lethal storms, including Harvey, Irma and Maria. In 2018 and 2019, the season again surged, with 15 and 18 named storms respectively, including 2019’s Dorian.

The Colorado forecast will be updated June 4, when more conditions can be fed into models to improve accuracy. The National Hurricane Center is expected to issue its preseason forecast in May.

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