Hurricane season off to historically fast start: What does that mean for the rest of the year?
Cristobal was projected to weaken to a tropical depression Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center. Storyful
With Tropical Storm Cristobal's landfall along the Gulf Coast this week, the 2020 hurricane season is off to a historically fast start.
Cristobal, which made landfall in southeast Louisiana on Sunday, became the earliest third tropical storm on record when it was named June 2.
Cristobal was preceded by Arthur and Bertha, which both formed in May before the official start of the season, which was June 1.
All of the first three storms affected the USA, which hasn't happened since 2004, according to hurricane specialist Eric Blake of the National Hurricane Center.
But some hurricane records can be deceiving, experts say: Although official hurricane records go back to 1851, improvements in sensing technology have allowed us to detect weak storms that may not have been named even 25 years ago, Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach told USA TODAY. "And we certainly missed storms prior to the satellite era (before 1966)," he said.
Does this busy start to the hurricane season indicate a wild year ahead? Maybe not:
"Early season storm activity doesn't necessarily correlate with how much overall hurricane activity the season has," Klotzbach said.
As an example, Blake noted that in 1997, five storms formed by mid-July, then only three formed the rest of the year.
He said the relationship between early season storms and overall activity is most meaningful for June and July storms that form way out in the deep tropics: "Those storms tend to portend an active year, but it is no guarantee," he said.
Still, almost all forecasts are pointing to an unusually active season – not because of the early storms, but because atmospheric and oceanic conditions are primed for hurricane formation. For instance, Colorado State University meteorologists last week upped their prediction for the hurricane season to 19 named storms, of which nine will be hurricanes. (A typical season has 10 named storms, of which six are hurricanes.)
This is primarily because of the absence of an El Niño, an area of warmer-than-average sea water in the Pacific. El Niño tends to increase upper-level westerly winds across the Caribbean into the tropical Atlantic, tearing apart hurricanes as they try to form, Colorado State University said.
Even more threats could soon arise, AccuWeather said: Meteorologists are monitoring another area of showers and thunderstorms in the Atlantic for tropical development late this week.
Of course, the forecast of an unusually active hurricane season is occurring against the backdrop of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which the disaster policy group SmarterSafer Coalition called a "cataclysmic scenario."
The typical protocols of packing evacuees and cots into a high school gymnasium during an emergency could pose significant public health risks if social distancing and medical screening controls are not followed. There is also the need for shelters to be adequately equipped with appropriate personal protective equipment items and sanitizers.
“The coronavirus public health emergency won’t stop the threat of hurricanes, and in many ways makes responding to other disasters even more challenging,” said Samantha Phillips, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
Contributing: Geoff Spillane, the Cape Cod Times.