The number of Atlantic storms that year was exceptional.
So extraordinary that the World Meteorological Organization will soon run out of names for these cyclones. During each Atlantic storm season, there are 21 names to choose from, sorted alphabetically by A. (Q, U, X, Y and Z are not included as the names need to be easily recognizable to a large number of people.) The 21-name list was only exhausted once, in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina and the most tropical storms ever recorded.
This year there is only “Wilfred”
“The number of storms is exceptional,” Falko Judt, a research meteorologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Mashable on Monday.
A storm is given a name (or letter) if it meets the criteria for a “tropical storm,” that is, an organized, spinning storm system with sustained winds of at least 39 miles per hour. Once those winds hit 74 mph, a tropical storm becomes a hurricane.
2020 has a good chance of breaking the record for named (and labeled) storms. Tropical storm Vicky formed in the Atlantic on Monday (September 14, 2020) and became the 20th storm of the season. But in 2005 the 20th storm didn’t arrive until October 5th.
Atmospheric scientists back in April accurately predicted that 2020 would be a busy or even “hyperactive” season, largely due to above-average sea surface temperatures and a lower chance of hurricane-breaking winds. In the first half of the season, however, there were more short-lived or weak storms than hurricanes. (It only takes a big storm like Hurricane Laura to change lives and communities, however.) “Right now it’s about quantity over quality,” Judt said.
The important thing is that a storm doesn’t have to have 150 miles per hour of wind to wreak havoc. Hurricane Sally Category 1, an “inferior” hurricane with winds of 85 mph, is expected to bring “historic life-threatening flash floods” to the Gulf Coast on Tuesday and beyond.
It is almost certain that 2020 will go through a good number of Greek letters. There is currently excellent preparation for storm formation in the Atlantic. Hurricanes feed on warm water, and the surface temperatures of the oceans are above average in much of the Atlantic Basin. In addition, the “seeds” of tropical storms – thunderstorms rolling off Africa – are quite active. Once they reach the warm Atlantic, the storms can pick up steam.
“It’s almost like being on a train,” Brian Tang, an atmospheric researcher at the University of Albany, told Mashable on Monday. “As soon as they leave the African coast, of course they want to develop further.”
As the oceans continue to absorb large amounts of man-made heat from the atmosphere in the coming years, hurricane scientists expect this warming to affect hurricanes. Overall, however, they do not expect any more storms. Rather, they expect big storms get more intenseas more water naturally evaporates into the air, and storms give energy and moisture to intensify. This means more damaging and dangerous extreme weather events.
“We believe the most intense storms will see an upswing,” Tang told Mashable in July as the busy 2020 season got underway.