What you need to know about record-breaking heat in the Atlantic

Explanatory Note by Alan Journet

Hurricanes generally originate as a Low Pressure area in the South Atlantic off the coast of Africa where oceans are warm and then flow west across the ocean becoming more intense as they turn into Tropical Storms and then Hurricanes in the Caribbean.

Note that the discussion is not about hurricane frequency in the North Atlantic but hurricane intensity. 

Michael Lowry, May 22, 2024, Yale Climate Connections

Waters across the Atlantic’s tropical belt — extending from the coast of Africa through the Caribbean — are hotter now than in any other late May on record, with over 90% of the area’s sea surface engulfed in record or near-record warmth. The extent of marine heat has never been greater heading into a hurricane season, outpacing by wide margins the previous late May record-holder in 2005, a year remembered for one of the most active and destructive hurricane seasons in modern history.

Although record-setting sea surface temperatures alone don’t guarantee a busy hurricane season, they do strongly influence it, especially when the abnormal warmth coincides with the tropical belt known as the Main Development Region, or MDR, the area where 85% of Category 3, 4, and 5 hurricanes form. When considered alongside a developing La Niña — the periodic cooling of the equatorial Pacific that reduces storm-busting Atlantic wind shear — the unprecedented ocean heat is driving up seasonal hurricane outlooks higher than ever before.

Colorado State University — the group that pioneered seasonal hurricane forecasts in the 1980s — issued its most aggressive April forecast last month in almost 30 years of doing such preseason outlooks. NOAA, the parent agency of the National Weather Service, will release its first 2024 hurricane season outlook May 23, and expectations are for similarly bullish numbers.

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