June 13, 2024

How bad could the upcoming hurricane season be? Maybe one of the busiest ever, at least judging by a new key preseason forecast.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday released its forecast for the 2024 season, which starts June 1, calling for a more active than normal season — thanks in large part to the off-the-charts high temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean.

NOAA is predicting that 17 to 25 named storms could form this year, with eight to 13 powering up into hurricanes and four to seven of those reaching major hurricane status, Category 3 or higher. That’s above the average: 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes. In fact, they’re the highest ever forecast by the federal agency. In 2020, NOAA had predicted the highest number of storms of all time. That season wound up with 30 named storms, 14 of them growing into hurricanes.

This season — at least potentially — sets up to top that.

“That’s the highest forecast that we’ve had,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service. “It’s reason to be concerned, of course, but not alarmed.”

For the 2024 hurricane season, NOAA only predicts there’s a 5% chance of a below-average season.

It’s also the second-highest forecast the agency has ever made for accumulated cyclonic energy, a metric that takes into account the power and longevity of storms throughout the season. The only year that tops this was 2010. This year, NOAA predicts it could be 150% to 245% of normal.

“In past years when we’ve seen high ACE numbers, those have been the years with the strongest hurricanes,” said Rick Spinrad, NOAA administrator.

Last year, NOAA called for 14 to 21 named storms, six to 11 hurricanes and two to five major hurricanes. The final numbers for 2023 were 20 named storms, seven of which became hurricanes and three that reached major hurricane strength. It was the fourth-most active season on record.

Several factors come together to bake up such an alarming forecast. Primary among them, experts said, is just how hot the ocean is expected to be this summer. The peak of hurricane season for Florida is August to October.

The ocean heat content in the main development region of the Atlantic, where the majority of storms are born, is running at levels in May that are normally seen in late August, according to a University of Miami analysis.

The ocean heat content in the main development region of the Atlantic, where the majority of storms are born, is running at levels in May that are normally seen in late August, according to a University of Miami analysis.

The ocean heat content in the main development region of the Atlantic, where the majority of storms are born, is running at levels in May that are normally seen in late August, according to a University of Miami analysis.

Another factor supercharging this season is the global atmospheric phenomenon, La Niña, which is linked to a more active season in the Atlantic. Last year, the world was experiencing the opposite effect, El Niño, which usually depresses storm activity in the Atlantic.

Despite the cooling effects of El Niño, the raw heat in the Atlantic appeared to win out, leading to another high storm year.

But this year, forecasters say, El Niño has faded and La Niña is likely to take its place this summer. As of early May, NOAA predicted there was a 49% chance La Niña could form by June to August and a 69% chance it could form by July to September.

Other contributing factors are lower levels of wind shear, which can destabilize baby storms and halt them from strengthening; weaker trade winds, which blow east to west; and a stronger, wetter African Monsoon Season, which can spark more storm formation.

“We have this warm water, we have an active monsoon season. Check, check. Don’t expect a whole lot of shear, check,” said Graham. “It all has to come together for a forecast like this.”

Scientists also drew a direct connection between climate change and this upcoming season. As the world warms, more of that heat is stored in the ocean, which serves as fuel for stronger and wetter storms.

READ MORE: What we know — and don’t — about how climate change impacts hurricanes

While the science is still a work in progress on how, exactly, a warming world affects hurricanes, academics are most confident that climate change is making more powerful storms more likely, cranking up the dial on extreme rainfall and strong surge and making it more common that storms rapidly strengthen as they approach land.

This graphic represents several factors that NOAA believes will lead to another above-average hurricane season in 2024.

This graphic represents several factors that NOAA believes will lead to another above-average hurricane season in 2024.

Hours before NOAA gave its official season forecast, the National Hurricane Center started tracking its second area of concern of the season — a cluster of rain showers between the coasts of Cuba and Domenica. The hurricane center gives the blob a low shot of strengthening into anything serious, only a 10% chance through the next week.

It’s expected to move northeast, offshore, over the next few days.

The disturbance’s appearance highlights another oddity of the season. Despite the strong prediction for the season, nothing has actually formed so far this year. This is the latest into the year in forty years that nothing has formed in the Atlantic or Pacific, the Washington Post reported.

In recent years, storms have formed before the official June 1 start date in four of the past five years, prompting the hurricane season to nudge its forecasters to start issuing regular predictions two weeks earlier and talk of moving the season’s official start date into May.

Despite the grave predictions, NOAA Administrator Spinrad reminded people in the path of hurricanes that there is plenty of time to prepare, as long as everyone starts now.

“The key this year, as in any year, is to get prepared,” he said. “Remember, it only takes one storm to devastate a community.”