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El Niño and the Atlantic Hurricane Season

May 19, 2014

Unlike the busy Atlantic Hurricane Season of 2010, experts are predicting a quiet hurricane season this year!

Credit: NOAA
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If it’s May, it’s time to work in your garden and (apparently) plan for the upcoming hurricane season.

Here’s the good news: All the experts agree that it will be a quieter Atlantic hurricane season with fewer storms. Of course, the bad news is that last year most of the experts agreed that 2013 would be an unusually busy season and it was totally wimpy.

Let’s hope they are a little more accurate now.

Oddly enough, one of the main reasons that everyone is agreeing the Atlantic will be quieter is in the Pacific. The Tropical Pacific is getting warmer and it is developing an El Niño. (That means the Tropical Pacific is almost 1˚F warmer than normal.)

You see, El Niños are huge, covering as much as 10% of the globe’s surface. The hot waters heat the air, which changes air pressure. Air pressure shapes winds. When the Pacific has an El Niño, it affects winds all around the tropics. The winds that develop over the Atlantic tend to be so strong that they sheer off the tops of growing storms.

This year’s El Nino is expected to produce winds that chop off hurricane development in the Atlantic.

In other words, Atlantic tropical storms trying to grow into hurricanes are like grass trying to grow under a working lawnmower. They will probably get chopped. Of course, anyone who has mowed a lawn knows that the mower can miss an area and obnoxious weeds can grow. There have been years like 1992, that are relatively quiet El Niño years, but one of the season’s five storms was Category 5 Hurricane Andrew. The sheering El Niño winds missed that one. Whoops!

So – hurricanes need energy from hot waters and favorable winds to grow. Scientists are reporting near normal waters and unfavorable winds.

Hurricanes need hot waters and the Tropical Atlantic has near normal temperatures.

Some weather services, are suggesting that even with fewer storms, there is a strong risk that there will be one or two landfalls. But then, you knew the news couldn’t be all good, didn’t you?

Here’s to the summer of 2014—may your flowers grow and your hurricanes get chopped off at the roots.

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Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.

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