Nine named storms already in the books have broken records for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, but government forecasters said Thursday that even stormier conditions are on the horizon that could push the limit on traditional storm names.
NOAA forecasters are now calling for up to 25 named storms with winds of 39 mph or higher; of those, 7 to 10 could become hurricanes. Among those hurricanes, three to six will be major, classified as Category 3, 4, and 5 with winds of 111 mph or higher.
These numbers include the nine storms that have already formed, which were seven tropical storms and two hurricanes.
That’s far above an average year. Based on 1981 to 2010 data, that is 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.
The updated forecast also increased the chance of an above-average hurricane season from 60% to 85%, more than the agency’s May forecast.
Forecasters said Thursday that current oceanic and atmospheric conditions are why an “extremely active” hurricane season is possible. The combination of warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, reduced vertical wind shear, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds, and an enhanced west African monsoon are behind the uptick.
“It looks like this season could be one of the more active in the historical record,” Bell said during a briefing with reporters.
Bell added that besides increased numbers of storms, this hurricane season could feature strong and longer-lived storms than average. He said while the outlook may have its highest numbers ever, forecasters don’t believe this season will top the 28 named storms in 2005, which included Hurricane Katrina.
But if 25 storms do end up forming in 2020, that could mean that there will be more storms than names.
There are 21 names assigned to a hurricane season. If there are more than 21 storms, meteorologists turn after Wilfred to the Greek alphabet — Alpha, Beta, Gamma and so on.
Conditions then were “even more favorable,” Bell said, adding that by early August 2005 there had already been two major hurricanes.
National Weather Service (NWS) Director Louis Uccellini also stressed the confidence forecasters have in projecting increased activity, saying it boosts the earlier busy projection from 60% to 85%.
“This will be the third active season we’ve had since 2005,” Uccellini said.
Forecasters noted that while 19 storms formed during the 2010 season, the U.S. was spared from many. So far in 2020, the most destructive has been this month’s Hurricane Isaias, which killed at least nine people and left millions of people without power.
Bell noted that in seasons with increased activity, storms tend to track further westward, which makes for an “increased threat” to the U.S. The NOAA projection does not account for landfalling storms, which, according to Bell, due to weather patterns are only known 5 to 7 days in advance.
Still, he stressed that now is the time for coastal and inland residents to get ready before more storms threaten, especially with consideration during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We know it takes only one storm to create catastrophic impacts,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement that it was “one of the most active seasonal forecasts” that NOAA produced in its 22-year history of hurricane outlooks.
“We encourage all Americans to do their part by getting prepared, remaining vigilant, and being ready to take action when necessary,” Ross said.
The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and includes the names: Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred.
Fox News’ Janice Dean contributed to this report.