Bryan Norcross: Is there any reason Hurricane Season 2024 won't be super busy?

In fact, I was a bit surprised the initial forecast from Colorado State University for the number of named storms this year wasn't somewhat higher.

The first hurricane-season forecasts are out, and they all predict a very busy season. Indeed, the key macro factors that modulate tropical activity in the Atlantic are both pointing toward a pattern conducive for tropical storm and hurricane development. In fact, I was a bit surprised the initial forecast from Colorado State University for the number of named storms this year wasn't somewhat higher.

Here's the forecast from the team at CSU calling for 23 named storms, 11 hurricanes, and 5 hurricanes reaching Cat 3 strength or higher.

The ocean water temperatures in the tropical and eastern Atlantic are stunningly warm – the warmest ever recorded at this time of year. Extra-warm water in the spring usually translates to above-normal temperatures in the heart of hurricane season, so the odds favor developing storms having access to extra energy this year.

In the Pacific, the strong consensus of the various computer forecasts is that the El Niño that helped keep storms away from the U.S. last season will be replaced by a hurricane-supportive La Niña or what's called a cold-neutral condition. In either case, the atmosphere over the Atlantic would be expected to be more conducive to storm development than in 2023.

Last season, the extra-warm water temperatures in the Atlantic were partially canceled out by the somewhat hostile El Niño pattern created by the band of warm water across the equatorial Pacific south of Hawaii. Air rising from that large warm-water zone helped create a steering pattern over the tropical Atlantic that kept most of the strong storms away from the U.S. and the Caribbean.

Even with the push-pull of the negative El Niño and the positive Atlantic Ocean temperatures, 20 systems got names. With both signs pointing in the same direction this year, a forecast of more storms seems obvious. Because the El Niño was apparently strong enough to keep the Caribbean mostly storm-free and limit development in the Gulf, just lifting that inhibitor should boost the numbers, at first blush.

More critical than the total number of named storms, of course, is where the storms track and how strong they get. If the non-El Niño weather pattern behaves normally, we should expect systems to track farther west this year, which opens the door to more landfalls, of course.

So what could change? How certain is this stormy scenario? A lot, actually. Two years ago, the daily weather pattern over the Atlantic was hostile to storm development for most of July and all of August. The luck-of-the-draw jet-stream pattern overrode the La Niña and the warm ocean water. Since we can only predict how the jet stream and high and low-pressure systems will likely track about two weeks ahead, it's pointless to guess if something like that will happen again in the middle of summer. But of course, it's possible.

Also, this pattern of extremely warm ocean water across the Caribbean, the tropical Atlantic, and in the eastern Atlantic to near Portugal is very unusual. We first saw a similar pattern last year. Since the water temperatures influence the weather pattern, which in turn affects the water temperatures, and this configuration doesn't match historical patterns -- there is no good fit to a past hurricane season. That adds some uncertainty to the predictions this year – although it doesn't necessarily mean that fewer hurricanes will develop than forecast. There could be more.

In the end, the uncertainty doesn't make any difference. The biggest benefit of these forecasts is that they get people in the hurricane zone focused on the task at hand – thinking about and preparing for hurricane season. Everybody knows about getting hurricane supplies, cash, and prescriptions, but the most important issues to think about right now are these:

  • Where are you and your family going to ride out a strong hurricane? Just saying "outta here" is not an option for many people. If a major hurricane is forecast to impact your area, traffic and jammed airplanes will make leaving town difficult, expensive, or impossible. If you live in an evacuation zone, staying with friends inland is the best option, assuming their house is hurricane-ready.
  • How am I going to protect my property? Expand your idea of property to think of your car. Shutters or impact windows and doors plus roof reinforcements are obviously the best ways to keep the storm out of your house. But now would be an excellent time to come up with a strategy for protecting the family car(s) as well. Avoid low-lying areas that could flood. Park away from trees and next to the downwind side of a building if you can figure that out. Or the best option is a parking garage on a higher floor, if that's feasible.
  • Where will you get drinking water after the storm? Bottled water is a traditional hurricane supply, and it doesn't hurt to have a couple of gallons on hand, but the better idea is to have collapsible water jugs handy. They stay folded up on the shelf. You fill them with tap water before the storm. You can also simply fill Ziploc bags. You'll want to jam your freezer full of 3/4 full Ziplocs before the storm anyway, so no air pockets are left. The water in the bags will freeze, keeping the freezer and refrigerator cold longer, and you can use the water to drink in the days after the storm if tap-water quality is a problem. Also, get a plastic painter's sheet to line your bathtub. Fill the tub 3/4 full so you'll have water to flush the toilet and wash off if you lose water service.
  • How will you communicate after the storm if mobile-phone service is knocked out? Every family or friend's group should have an out-of-town check-in number to call or text. Since phone service in your city could be limited or out completely in some areas, it makes sense to connect with someone whose service is not likely to be interrupted as soon after the storm as you can.

Start thinking now. It will make life a lot easier if storms require you to take action later this year.