So El Niño 2012 'no show' caused this ? - (Source:)
Before the beginning of this hurricane season, back in May, forecasters thought this year would be an average one. Come august, when the season typically peaks, forecasters notched up their outlook, saying the season would in fact be busier than average.
Now it's October and it's been and it's been one of the busiest seasons on record, with 19 named storms so far this year, 10 of which became hurricanes, including Hurricane Sandy, which has the potential to strike the east coast.
That puts the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season in rarified company. Only seven seasons since 1851 (as far back as hurricane records reach) have seen 19 or more named storms. Three of these have been within the last decade: 2010 and 2011 seasons had 19 storms, the most on record, including Hurricane Katrina.
Originally the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted there would be nine to 15 storms this year. Then, in August, it upped it's prediction to 12 to 17 named storms, with five to eight of those becoming hurricanes. (Storms are named once the attain tropical storm status - defined as a rotating, organized storm with maximum sustained winds of at least 39 mph [119 kph] )
It's relatively unusual to have more storms than forecast, said Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane season forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. So why has this hurricane season been busier than expected ?
The underestimate can be blamed on El Niño, Bell told OurAmazingPlanet. Or rather the lack of El Niño. Forecasters predicted that this climate pattern, characterized by warm surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, would have developed by now and stymied hurricane formation by it's influence on the atmosphere. But it hasn't.
Blame it on El Nino
Bell said the hurricane forecast represents how many storms there are likely to be, within a 70 percent probability. In recent years their forecasts have been 95 percent accurate, he said.
This year, cyclone activity has continued longer than expected in the Atlantic, unperturbed by El Niño, which spawns high-level winds that stream eastward and can disrupt the swirling motion that gives developing storm it's power, Bell said.
"There was a strong indication that El Niño would form in time to suppress the peak of the hurricane season and El Niño just hasn't formed yet," he said.
Other climate factors also played a part in this year's season, as well as some of the other busy seasons.
The main reason for the recent abundance of cyclones si that since 1995, the Atlantic Ocean basin has been in the warm phase of a cyclical climate pattern called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, with hotter-than average surface temperatures throughout the tropics and subtropics, Bell said. This pattern lasts for about 25-40 years, and comes with more hurricanes than it's "cool" phase, he said. Warm water helps hurricanes form and fuels their strength.
In addition, in the past few years there has been a strong West African Monsoon, which creates disturbances in the eastern Atlantic that can turn into cyclones (the generic name for hurricanes and tropical storms), Bell said. There's also been relatively weak wind shear in the tropical Atlantic where cyclones form. Wind shear is a difference in wind speed or direction between high and low atmosphere, which tears apart developing storms. Wind shear is the main reason El Niño hampers cyclone formation.
One thing that is likely isn't to blame for the increase in hurricanes in recent years is the global warming, Bell said. Many climate models suggest that increased temperatures could actually lead to fewer, but stronger, hurricanes worldwide, he said.
|It's Been An Unusual Season Indeed!|
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