The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season has been rather uneventful so far. Only three named storms have developed – Subtropical Storm Andrea in May, prior to the official start of the season on June 1, followed by Hurricane Barry which hit the Louisiana coast in mid-July and Tropical Storm Chantal in the middle of the north Atlantic (named earlier this week). Now that it’s August 22, many people on the Gulf and East coasts of the U.S. may think they’re in the clear, but they may not be out of the woods just yet.
The hurricane season generally runs from June 1 through November. But the next six weeks – often called “the season within a season” – is usually the busiest time for storm development in the Atlantic basin. This is according to Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.
Until now, upper-atmospheric winds have been sending dry, dusty air from Africa’s Sahara Desert across the Atlantic, robbing potential storms of moisture. Also, wind shear spurred by El Niño has been tearing apart budding storms.
Lately, these mechanisms have been fading, which could lead to the following result: “A big change in the pattern over the Atlantic, going from a very lackluster quiet weather pattern to a much more active one,” said Dan Kottlowski, the lead hurricane forecaster at AccuWeather in State College, Pennsylvania. “We are thinking this season will be back-loaded.”
Earlier this month, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) updated its seasonal outlook, forecasting 10 to 17 named storms in the Atlantic. Last year, there were 15, including hurricanes Florence and Michael that killed a combined 96 people and caused more than $49 billion in damage. A storm is named when it reaches tropical storm strength – maximum sustained winds of 39 to 73 miles per hour, becoming a hurricane when winds reach 74 mph. An average season has 12 named storms and six hurricanes.
NOAA meteorologists have increased the probability of an above-average season developing from 30 percent (May outlook) to 45 percent, predicting up to eight hurricanes, as many as four of them becoming “major” strength of Category 3 or higher. But, unfortunately, there’s no way to accurately tell how many will make landfall.
“NOAA will continue to deliver the information that the public depends on before, during and after any storms throughout the hurricane season,” said Neil Jacobs, Ph.D., acting NOAA administrator. “Armed with our next-generation satellites, sophisticated weather models, hurricane hunter aircraft, and the expertise of our forecasters, we are prepared to keep communities informed to help save lives and livelihoods.”
At risk is $17 trillion in U.S. real estate along the coasts, as well as some of America’s most valuable commodities. More than 45 percent of U.S. refining capacity and 51 percent of gas processing is along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Florida is the world’s second-largest producer of orange juice after Brazil.
Records from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) show the most Atlantic hurricanes on record forming after August 21 is 11. This occurred in both 2005, the same year Katrina demolished New Orleans, as well as 2010.
What’s at play
Besides decreasing Saharan dust and a fading El Niño, two other phenomena could help accelerate this year’s hurricane output.
The first is the so-called Madden-Julian Oscillation, a ripple of rising and sinking air that swirls through the atmosphere about every 45 to 60 days. It can spark typhoons and hurricanes when combined with other factors, and may affect the Atlantic basin in late August or September, Henson said.
The second is a fast-moving atmospheric system known as a “convectively coupled Kelvin wave” that’s affected by the earth’s rotation. When one of these runs into a tropical system moving off the coast of western Africa, it can quickly transform a disturbance into a swirling tropical storm or hurricane. Bob Henson, a meteorologist with Weather Underground, an IBM business, told Bloomberg news on August 18 there is a Kelvin wave moving across the Pacific on its way to the Atlantic.
All of this doesn’t mean the Atlantic will suddenly pop to life today. The next week or two should extend the streak of doldrums across the basin, Henson added. But once they do start rolling, look out. There is a deep pool of warm water across the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean and along the southeastern coastline of the U.S.
“This is high-octane fuel that is all waiting in the wings for the first storm,” said Jim Rouiller, chief meteorologist at the Energy Weather Group outside Philadelphia. “This is all untapped, and it will really intensify storms.”
There’s no guarantee that the remainder of the 2019 hurricane season will buzz with a plethora of storms, but with experts upping the odds of an above-average season it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. This goes for logistics managers as well as the general public.
Kathy Fulton, Executive Director of the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) agrees. ALAN is an industry-wide organization that provides supply chain assistance to disaster relief organizations and other non-profits by connecting them to the expertise and resources of the logistics industry. Fulton told FreightWaves that she’s been closely watching the forecasts to make sure ALAN is ready for action.
“Regardless of the predicted number of storms, ALAN lives by the ‘it only takes one’ adage. So, we prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and anticipate that reality will be somewhere in between.”
Fulton went on to explain this means exercising ALAN’s internal processes and personnel readiness, and encouraging members of the logistics and supply chain community to do the same. If those businesses are prepared then commercial supply chains can keep moving, ensuring food, water and other supplies can be trucked into disaster areas.
“Those existing delivery mechanisms are more efficient, and it means that there will be less demand for “replacement” supply chains to deliver humanitarian relief,” added Fulton. “But when those replacement supply chains are needed to fill gaps, our network of partners is ready and willing to donate their services.”
Right now, no significant tropical waves are developing off the western coast of Africa. The Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea are quiet for now, too. Looking at the latest data from FreightWaves SONAR, the only area of the Atlantic that has potential for tropical development in the next few days is off the southeastern coast of the U.S. However, the chance for anything budding is less than 40 percent. Only time will tell how much will change in the coming weeks.