Forecasters fear a ‘turbo’ Atlantic hurricane season due to the ‘loop current’ in the Gulf of Mexico | Scientific and technical news



Forecasters predict an unusually busy Atlantic cyclone season and fear that conditions are ripe to accelerate several devastating hurricanes.

Two of the most devastating hurricanes in history, category four Hurricane Opal in 1995 and category five Hurricane Katrina in 2005, were intensified by what is known as the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico.

This ocean current protrudes through the Yucatan Channel into the belly of the Gulf before exiting the Florida Strait. This year it has pushed much further north than usual.

“As the loop current is extended, it eventually sheds a large eddy, or ring, which then drifts west as the loop current retracts south,” explained the National Oceanic and United States Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

A vortex from the loop current propelled Hurricane Katrine from a tropical cyclone as it crossed the Florida Strait into a category five hurricane that eventually inundated much of New Orleans and caused more than 100 billion dollars of damage.

For the seventh year in a row, NOAA has predicted an above-average hurricane season, with between 14 and 21 named storms, with 70% confidence.

Meteorologists fear that if one of these tropical storms were to pass over the deep, warm waters of the Loop Current, it could develop into extremely powerful hurricanes – almost overnight.

NOAA expects between three and six major hurricanes – above category three with winds of 111 mph or more.

Writing for The Conversation, Professor Nick Shay from the University of Miami said: “I have been monitoring the heat content of the oceans for over 30 years as a marine scientist. The conditions I see in the Gulf in May 2022 are worrying.”

He described the Loop Current as “the 800-pound gorilla of Gulf hurricane hazard” and said, “When the Loop Current hits this north so early in hurricane season – especially during what should be a busy season – it can be catastrophic for people along the northern Gulf Coast, from Texas to Florida.”

Loop current visible on sea surface temperature observed by satellite.  Photo: NOAA/AOML OceanViewer
Loop current visible on sea surface temperature observed by satellite. Photo: NOAA/AOML OceanViewer


Storms ‘explode almost overnight’

Professor Shay said the loop current helped Hurricane Ida in August 2021 to “explode almost overnight” due to its surface temperature of over 30C (86F) which swelled. extended to about 180 m (590 ft).

This year in mid-May the loop current already has water temperatures of around 25°C (78°F) down to 100m (330ft) in depth and Prof Shay said that he expected it to increase.

Track of Hurricane Katrina superimposed on TCHP conditions in the Gulf of Mexico in 2005. Photo: NOAA
Track of Hurricane Katrina superimposed on the heat conditions in the Gulf of Mexico in 2005. Photo: NOAA

“During a storm, warm ocean water can create towering plumes of warm, moist air, providing high-octane fuel for hurricanes,” he explained.

“As the humidity and heat increase in a hurricane, the pressure drops. The difference in horizontal pressure between the center of the storm and its periphery subsequently causes the wind to accelerate and the hurricane to become increasingly dangerous.”

Because Loop Current water is “deeper and warmer, and also saltier than common Gulf water”, it is able to trap heat at great depths, providing hurricanes with a powerful injection of energy.

Neighborhoods are flooded with oil and water two weeks after Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, September 12, 2005. U.S. President George W. Bush, during a tour of devastated New Orleans on Monday , dismissed accusations that the government was slow to respond to Hurricane Katrina because most of the victims were black or because the national army was overstretched in Iraq.  Hurricane Katrina hit the region on August 29, causing many deaths and severe property damage in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Much of New Orleans was flooded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005

“Get Ready Now”

The most powerful and devastating hurricanes have historically occurred towards the end of the season, in August and September, as summer continues to contribute to seed weather effects.

“It’s important that everyone understands their risk and takes proactive steps to prepare now,” warned Deanne Criswell, Administrator of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The names of the Atlantic tropical cyclones in 2022
The World Meteorological Organization has already chosen the list of names for this year’s storms

How do they make these predictions?

Several climatic factors contribute to this season, including La Nina, higher sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Caribbean, and an exceptional monsoon season in West Africa.

La Nina is expected to reduce wind shear – changes in wind speed and direction – which can help suddenly defuse a storm by weakening and destabilizing it.

African weather results in much more powerful easterly waves, which is how many of the strongest and longest lasting Atlantic hurricanes begin to form.

“Early preparation and understanding your risk is key to being hurricane-resistant and climate-ready,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

“Throughout hurricane season, NOAA experts will be working around the clock to provide early, accurate forecasts and warnings that communities in the path of storms can rely on to stay informed,” Raimondo added. .


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