Hurricane season ends with records set

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NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite took an image Sept. 14 showing five tropical systems spinning at one time in the Atlantic basin: Hurricane Sally in the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Paulette east of the Carolinas, the remnants of Tropical Storm Rene in the central Atlantic and Tropical Storms Teddy and Vicky in the eastern Atlantic. Ten named storms formed in September — the most for any month on record. Islander Images: Courtesy NOAA
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is one for the history books.
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season produced 30 named storms.

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season ended Nov. 30, with a record-breaking 30 named storms and 12 landfalling storms in the continental United States.

While season concluded Nov. 30, tropical storms may continue to develop past that day and emergency management officials at the county, state and federal levels encouraged preparedness.

The seasonal hurricane outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration accurately predicted a high likelihood of an above-normal season with a strong possibility of it being extremely active.

In total, the 2020 season produced 30 named storms — with top winds of 39 mph or greater.

Thirteen of those storms became hurricanes, with top winds of 74 mph or greater, including six major hurricanes with top winds of 111 mph or greater.

The 2020 season, with the most storms on record, surpassed the 28 storms in 2005.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, in a news release, called the season relentless, and that’s likely how residents of the northern Gulf states, the Caribbean and Central America experienced the season.

On Anna Maria Island, multiple storms passing in the Gulf of Mexico roughed up waters, disrupting and delaying beach renourishment work and one storm, Tropical Storm Eta Nov. 11-12, was a factor in a death, caused by electrocution, as well as flooding, beach erosion and minor wind damage.

The season got off to an early and rapid pace with a record nine named storms from May through July, and then exhausted the 21-name Atlantic list when Tropical Storm Wilfred formed Sept. 18.

For only the second time in history, the Greek alphabet was used for the remainder of the season, extending through the ninth name on the list, Iota.

“The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season ramped up quickly and broke records across the board,” Neil Jacobs, acting NOAA administrator, said in a statement.

The season was the fifth consecutive one with an above-normal activity and there have been 18 above-normal seasons out of the past 26.

This increased hurricane activity was attributed to the warm phase of the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation — which began in 1995 — and has favored more, stronger and longer-lasting storms since that time.

Such active eras for Atlantic hurricanes have historically lasted about 25 to 40 years.

An average season has 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.

“As we correctly predicted, an interrelated set of atmospheric and oceanic conditions linked to the warm AMO were again present this year,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “These included warmer-than-average Atlantic sea surface temperatures and a stronger west African monsoon, along with much weaker vertical wind shear and wind patterns coming off of Africa that were more favorable for storm development.”

He continued, “These conditions, combined with La Nina, helped make this record-breaking, extremely active hurricane season possible.”

This historic hurricane season also saw record water levels in several locations, including the Gulf Coast, where Hurricane Sally brought the highest observed water levels since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

NOAA stations recorded data using the Coastal Inundation Dashboard, a tool to observe real-time water levels during a storm.

Also, scientists at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory and the Satellite and Information Service were able to deliver wave height information to forecasters using new instrumentation like the Ka-band Interferometric Altimeter.

The data allowed forecasters to help mariners avoid dangerous situations at sea.

Additionally, three hurricanes — Isaias, Laura and Sally — passed within range of NOAA’s hurricane ocean gliders, capturing data below the storms, while hurricane hunter planes captured atmospheric data above.

The 2021 hurricane season will officially begin June 1.

The first seasonal outlooks will be released in April and May.