Atlantic’s Early Show Distorts Odds of Strong Hurricane Season

Three tropical storms have popped out of the Atlantic Ocean this year, and it isn’t even August, when hurricane season usually kicks into high gear.

That’s the fastest start since 2013, when a total of 14 storms surged across the basin. Typically, it’s Aug. 13 before the ocean sees three systems powerful enough to get names.

It would be easy to conclude that the Atlantic is now primed to explode.

Well, maybe not.

The ocean, regardless of the numbers so far, just isn’t conducive for storms right now. There’s a lot of dry air, high pressure, stability in the atmosphere, cool water and wind shear, all of which are the opposite of what a storm needs to develop.

“It shouldn’t be surprising why we see nothing, virtually nothing, trying to get going in the Atlantic and Caribbean,” said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

While July isn’t known for producing tropical storms and hurricanes, it can send some powerful waves across the basin. A wave is a collection of thunderstorms that moves off Africa and provides the building blocks for tropical systems.

Falling Apart

“Normally, you see robust tropical waves overwhelming the Antilles,” Kottlowski said. “What is interesting this year is a tropical wave just came through the Lesser Antilles, moved westward, and just fell apart.”

The three storms that have formed this year -- Ana, Bill and Claudette -- were weak and developed north of the deep tropics, said Mike Ventrice, a meteorologist at WSI in Andover, Massachusetts.

Wind shear, deadly to hurricanes, is the strongest it has been across the Caribbean since 1979, said Phil Klotzbach, lead author of Colorado State University’s seasonal hurricane forecast. Shear is when winds blow at different speeds or directions at varying altitudes. The conflicting forces can tear the top off a tropical system.

After about Aug. 20, the Atlantic enters the heart of its season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. The biggest and strongest storms usually develop in a patch of the ocean from the African coast to the Lesser Antilles that is known as the Main Development Region.

Chances Dim

The region needs to be active in order for the Atlantic to produce an above-average number of storms,said Ventrice. Chances of that happening, if all things stay as they are, get slimmer every day.

Right now, water temperatures are “much cooler” than the 1995 to 2014 average, Klotzbach said. Warm ocean water provides the fuel for tropical systems.

Then there is dry air, which starves tropical systems of what they need most -- moisture.

“There is a real good ribbon of dry air coming off the coast of Africa,” Kottlowski said.

Another region that may produce a storm or two is off the coast of North America. Some computer forecast models suggest an area of low pressure moving away from the U.S. East Coast may try to organize itself into tropical system later this week, Kottlowski said.

Warm Water

Sea surface temperatures there are warm, so “we may well have a few scares from weaker storms closer to home,” said Todd Crawford, also a meteorologist at WSI.

Of course, shear is there, too, and Kottlowski said storm development “would be a long shot.” Even if something did form, it would be more like Claudette, which survived just about long enough to get a name before it fell apart in the North Atlantic.

Still, there are four more months to the hurricane season, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted six to 11 storms.

“These months are expected to run extremely quiet when compared to climatological standards,” Ventrice said. “To put this into perspective, we already have three named tropical cyclones and we only expect a total of six more for the remainder of the 2015 hurricane season”

The last time there were nine storms was 2009.

As we’ve said before, just takes one to ruin your year.

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