NOAA, The Weather Company, and Colorado State University have released their outlooks for the 2023 hurricane season, which is expected to be more challenging than usual due to conflicting signals. While an El Niño is likely, which tends to reduce the number of storms, warm Atlantic Ocean water could enhance storms. The outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center calls for a near-average season with 12 to 17 named storms, 5 to 9 of which become hurricanes, and 1 to 4 reaching at least Category 3 status. The combination of El Niño and warm Atlantic sea-surface temperatures is unprecedented and could result in a season that looks quite different from average.
As reported in NOAA, The Weather Company, and Colorado State University, the 2023 hurricane season outlook is more challenging than usual due to conflicting signals. On one hand, an El Niño is increasingly likely, which tends to tamp down the number of storms. On the other hand, Atlantic Ocean water is very warm in most areas, which could enhance storms.
The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season forecast is more unpredictable than usual due to an “unprecedented” combination of two key competing forecast factors. As per a new outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the season is expected to have between 12 and 17 named storms, 5 to 9 of which become hurricanes, and 1 to 4 reaching at least Category 3 status, or a near-average season.
While a “near-average” hurricane season might not grab your attention, two competing factors that will battle for control this year will make it extra important to pay attention to forecasts, as the forecasters at Atmospheric G2 that create The Weather Company’s hurricane outlook noted. “This combination of an incipient El Niño and very warm north Atlantic sea-surface temperatures is unprecedented in the recent record,” wrote the AG2 team in their outlook.
If one of those factors dominates, the hurricane season could look quite different than average. It’s worth noting that there’s actually already been one storm this season. In early May, the National Hurricane Center announced retroactively that an unnamed subtropical storm in January had formed, officially kicking off the 2023 season.
The first signal that experts are watching isn’t in the Atlantic Ocean, but rather the waters near the equator in the Pacific Ocean. These Pacific equatorial waters were cooler than average during the past three hurricane seasons – a condition known as La Niña. However, that long-lasting La Niña finally disappeared, and this patch of water is now warming quickly toward its counterpart, El Niño.
As of May, El Niño was a virtual certainty to develop by summer, and various computer forecast models suggested it could become strong by the heart of the hurricane season: August through October. The reason this strip of water far from the Atlantic Basin matters is that it’s one of the strongest influences on hurricane season activity.
In El Niño hurricane seasons, stronger shearing winds often occur over at least the Caribbean Sea and some parts of the tropical Atlantic. These winds can tear apart developing storms or make it hard for them to form in the first place. El Niño also tends to steer storms toward the Gulf of Mexico or the East Coast, which would mean fewer impacts on the US mainland.
However, the warm Atlantic waters could enhance storms, leading to a more active hurricane season. Warm water is one of the key ingredients needed for storm formation and intensification. If the El Niño factor isn’t as strong as expected, then the warm Atlantic waters could take over and lead to a more active season.
To finish on a strong point, the 2023 hurricane season outlook is uncertain due to conflicting signals from El Niño and warm Atlantic waters. It’s important to pay attention to forecasts and updates throughout the season to stay informed and prepared.