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No indication of letup in formation of Caribbean and US Atlantic Coast hurricanes for 2019: forecaster


By Jasmin Melvin / Platts

Petroleumworld 03 07 2019

Though work on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2019 hurricane season outlook is not slated to begin in earnest until late April, the lead seasonal hurricane forecaster for those outlooks said Tuesday that "the conditions that have been producing more hurricanes since 1995 are still in place."

And those conditions "could last for several more years," Gerry Bell, a hurricane climate specialist and research meteorologist at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said at a National Press Club newsmaker event.

Atlantic hurricane activity is based on strong climate patterns with "multi-decadal variability," Bell said. The current so-called warm phase of Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation is characterized by warmer ocean temperatures, particularly across the Atlantic main development region where storms destined to hit the Caribbean and US Atlantic Coast begin, and stronger West African monsoons. Such a climate pattern, Bell said, sets up the conditions that make "it more conducive for hurricanes to form."

Those warmer waters are still present and last year saw the third-strongest West African monsoon since 1979, Bell said. Historically, this warm phase has lasted anywhere from 25 to 40 years, before letting way to the cool phase of the Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation and with it an era of low hurricane activity, Bell said.


This warm phase began in 1995, bringing five major hurricanes whereas the previous year only saw one. The 2019 hurricane season will mark year 24 of the latest "high-activity era," with the previous high-activity era spanning a 20-year period from 1950 to 1970.

These high-activity eras not only have an increased frequency of storms, but the storms that form are also stronger and longer-lived, Bell said.

Case in point, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017 collectively caused $265 billion in damages, and make up three of the top five costliest US hurricanes on record, according to NOAA data. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 remains the costliest storm on record at $161 billion.

More severe and destructive storms are part of a debate about how to ensure grid resilience. As the power sector grapples with a changing resource mix, weather-related outages and energy supply chain disruptions have become a growing concern.

Hurricane-force winds, storm surges and flooding also present risks for certain natural gas infrastructure project construction schedules. The Gulf Coast is a hotbed for LNG export terminals but also a region prone to severe weather.


In response to a question, Bell contended there has been no upward trend in hurricanes. The Atlantic is the only basin seeing an uptick in hurricanes year to year, whereas major storms globally in the last 15 years have been on the decline. Activity in the Atlantic is part of a cyclical signal linked to "something that causes this multi-decadal variability, rather than an overall upward trend over 100 years," he said.

As for the impact human-caused climate change is having on the prevalence and intensity of hurricanes, Bell said it was an important issue that still needs to be resolved. Specifically, "how do our impacts on climate kind of mesh with, interact with these normal climate patterns," he said. "These are very powerful climate patterns but they're not necessarily acting alone."

For instance, Bell offered, what might global warming and its impact on ocean temperatures "be doing to perhaps these normal climate patterns as well as to longer-term trends?"

Work on the 2019 hurricane season outlook will start around the third week of April, Bell said, with plans by NOAA to release a forecast in late May.



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Story by Jasmin Melvin from Platts / SPGlobal.

- newsdesk@spglobal.com

03 06


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