The frighteningly active hurricane season is continuing to live up to meteorologists’ predictions. Just a few weeks after Hurricane Laura—the strongest storm on record to make landfall in Louisiana—brought devastating storm surges and rainfall to the Gulf Coast, there are now five more named storms in the Atlantic. The last time this many storms occupied this area was 1971, when there were six storm systems that were tropical depressions or greater.
Hurricane Sally is now a Category 1 storm, but is expected to bring a “historic flood event” to coastal Alabama and the western Florida panhandle. Though the storm isn’t as ferocious in terms of wind speed, it’s moving slowly. Hurricanes that inch along can actually bring more destruction as they hover over an area, dumping immense amounts of water in one spot. The governors of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana have all declared states of emergency.
Hurricane Paulette made landfall in Bermuda On Monday, and will likely peter out over the open ocean in the coming days. Tropical storms Teddy and Vicky are still out in the middle of the Atlantic. Teddy is likely to strengthen as it heads towards Bermuda, while Vicky is expected to dissipate by the end of the week. There’s also a tropical depression and an area to watch off the western coast of Africa.
The 2020 hurricane season has been staggeringly active. We are already at V on this year’s list of storm names. We previously reached this point with Hurricane Vince in 2005, but that’s the only other time since record-keeping began in 1851—and we’re 25 days ahead of that record. Hurricane season stretches into November, which means we have at least another month and of storms.
At this rate, we’re likely to run out of names. The only other season in which that happened was, again, 2005. Our current naming system is run by the World Meteorological Organization, which keeps a list of names to cycle through in each storm basin. Here in the Atlantic we have one list, but storm systems in the Indian Ocean have their own names to work through, as do those near Australia and in different parts of the Pacific.
There’s currently just one left to use in the Atlantic basin—Wilfred—since the list of names doesn’t actually encompass all 26 letters. Should we run out of names, we’ll move on to the Greek alphabet. In 2005, we got through to Zeta (the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet), since there were a record-breaking 27 named storms. (Yes, this is a confusing system.)
The original prediction for this year was some 19 to 25 named storms, but so far we seem to be outpacing the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record.
To top it off, smoke from the fires on the west coast is drifting out east and is likely to get wrapped up in Paulette.
Hurricane seasons like this—and intense, slow-moving storms in particular—are only more likely to occur as our planet warms. We now have studies that confirm the fact that hurricanes are becoming more destructive as the ocean heats up, providing more fuel for storm systems. In addition to having more people living on the coasts than ever before, the hurricanes themselves are getting stronger. If we do nothing to slow or halt the climate crisis, our future is going to be have a lot more hurricane seasons like this one.