Forecasting Change: Earlier starts to hurricane season

Warming waters over past century causing earlier tropical development

In this image, NOAA's GOES satellite shows Hurricane Irma as it makes its way across the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean -- a Category 5 storm with winds as high as 180 mph -- at about 3:15 p.m. Wednesday (NASA/NOAA GOES Project via Getty Images).
In this image, NOAA's GOES satellite shows Hurricane Irma as it makes its way across the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean -- a Category 5 storm with winds as high as 180 mph -- at about 3:15 p.m. Wednesday (NASA/NOAA GOES Project via Getty Images). (Getty Images)

Orlando, FLA. – This week on Forecasting Change, we take an early look at hurricane season. For now, the tropics have gone quiet again. But this time last week, we were all focused on subtropical storm Ana.

For the seventh consecutive season, we had an “early start” to the season. And it’s not just the last seven seasons that are setting the new normal.

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Look at the trend over the last half century. The pattern shows how much earlier the season gets to going now. Back in 1971, the first storm of the season usually did not come around until mid-July. Those days are gone.

Date of first Atlantic named storm. Source: Climate Central

When you look at warming of the tropical Atlantic, it shows clearly that the water temperature is on the rise over the last 100 years.

Hurricane season water temperatures Source: Climate Central

And as the water warms, the season starts earlier and the storms have been getting stronger faster.

That is not to say that all storms are stronger. What this means is we have experienced an increase in rapidly intensifying hurricanes. Think Hurricane Charley from 2004 and Hurricane Hanna, Laura, Iota, and Zeta from last season.

A rapidly intensifying hurricane is one that increases by at least 35 mph in 24 hours. Hurricane Iota increased 80 mph in 24 hours before hitting Nicaragua last November.

Rapidly intensifying Atlantic tropical cyclones Source: Climate Central

Hurricane season officially kicks off this Tuesday, June 1, and runs through the end of November.

If you have any questions on hurricane season, submit them here. You may see them answered on News 6 during our hurricane special June 1 from 7-8 p.m.


About the Author:

Tom Sorrells is News 6's Emmy award winning chief meteorologist. He pinpoints storms across Central Florida to keep residents safe from dangerous weather conditions.