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Higher likelihood of fast-developing hurricanes in 2024

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An ill wind: Hurricane Teddy approaches Bermuda in September 2020 (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Record-breaking warm seas across the Atlantic have significantly raised the threat of rapidly intensifying tropical storms and hurricanes this year, the AccuWeather service has warned.

The 2024 hurricane season, which officially starts on June 1, was already predicted to be well above average.

However, AccuWeather said meteorologists were concerned at the speed with which storms would be able to build into a threat, leaving less time for areas at risk to batten down or evacuate.

Rapid intensification of tropical storms and hurricanes is defined as a system quickly ramping up wind intensity of at least 35mph in 24 hours or less.

The weather service said sudden storms fuelled by exceptionally warm seas were likely to pose “a major threat to life and property along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines”.

AccuWeather highlighted both the warm sea surface temperatures in the main development region of the Atlantic where storms typically form, and warm waters extending to significant depths.

The minimum temperature threshold for tropical development is roughly 80F (27C).

AccuWeather said many areas of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and southwest Atlantic basin were “already above that threshold”.

Heating up: tropical storms in 2024 will have plenty of oceanic heat to ramp up their intensity (Image from AccuWeather)

Miami, Florida reported extreme heat this week, with the heat index setting a new record last weekend.

Alex DaSilva, AccuWeather’s lead hurricane forecaster, said: “Sea-surface temperatures across the Atlantic Basin as a whole have never been warmer in recorded history on this date than they are right now.

“The fear is that as we enter the heart of the tropical season, the sea-surface temperature may eclipse the record-breaking season that was 2023.”

The influence of the La Niña phenomenon in the Pacific is forecast to dampen wind shear in the Atlantic, also enabling storms to build up more rapidly in strength.

A stronger than usual Bermuda-Azores High over Bermuda would potentially fend hurricanes away from the island, putting the Caribbean and southern United States in the firing line.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week predicted an 85 per cent chance of an above-normal hurricane season.

NOAA also cited warm seas and the influence of La Niña on the Atlantic tropics, adding: “This hurricane season also features the potential for an above-normal west African monsoon, which can produce African easterly waves that seed some of the strongest and longer-lived Atlantic storms.

“Finally, light trade winds allow hurricanes to grow in strength without the disruption of strong wind shear, and also minimise ocean cooling.”

NOAA forecasted 17 to 25 total named storms, with winds of 39mph or higher.

Of those, eight to 13 were predicted to build into hurricanes, with winds of 74mph or higher, including four to seven major hurricanes of category 3, 4 or 5.

Forecasters were said to have 70 per cent confidence in these ranges. The Atlantic hurricane season officially ends on November 30.

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Published May 25, 2024 at 7:55 am (Updated May 25, 2024 at 7:55 am)

Higher likelihood of fast-developing hurricanes in 2024

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