The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has whipped up storms at a record pace, with an astonishing 25 named systems materializing during a time frame when a dozen is closer to average. This year marks only the second time in history that the National Hurricane Center has run out of names on its conventional list and has dipped into the Greek alphabet.
There’s a chance we could get further into that alphabet than ever before. In 2005, we made it to Zeta — and we’re just two named storms away in 2020. Our next storm would be named Epsilon.
A suspicious system that could become a problem
Since Monday, weather models have been hinting at the possibility of a hurricane developing in the central or western Caribbean and moving north or northeast. Ordinarily, models simulating a system materializing more than 10 days in advance would make meteorologists roll their eyes. But if the signal persists for multiple days and is depicted similarly by other models, it becomes easier to lend credence to that possibility.
There is no system to track yet, but models indicate that one may begin to form in the southern Caribbean, perhaps north of Panama or Colombia, toward the middle of next week. Initially just a broad swirl is forecast to be present at the mid-levels of the atmosphere, but there is a chance that, nestled within a zone of ultra-warm sea surface temperatures, a lobe of that spin can consolidate into a tropical storm or hurricane.
It’s important to note that it’s early to even be discussing this potential, and forecast specifics remain impossible to sort out. However, most models indicate the system would likely move north-northeast, perhaps impacting Cuba. Then, it could have implications for the Bahamas, Florida, the Southeast and/or Gulf Coast, although it’s highly uncertain whether this system will materialize and what path it might take. Any impact is at least eight days away.
A potential threat for Bermuda
Meanwhile, another system could begin to take shape somewhere over the middle Atlantic during the weekend into the first half of next week. A disturbance caught between high pressure to the west and broad low pressure to the east could acquire tropical characteristics by next Wednesday or Thursday.
While uncertainty again abounds a week in advance, there is a chance the system could pass near or over Bermuda as a hurricane. Paulette made landfall in Bermuda as a Category 1 hurricane with 90 mph winds on Sept. 14. Hurricane Teddy passed southeast of Bermuda about a week later.
The National Hurricane Center says this new disturbance has a moderate chance of eventual development.
Another flurry of activity forthcoming
Most hurricane seasons feature quiet stretches punctuated by busy periods. It looks as if we have another busy period coming up.
That’s caused in part to something called a convectively coupled Kelvin wave, a large overturning circulation that meanders about the global tropics. Think of sports fans at a stadium doing “the wave.” As the wave passes, they throw their hands up; when it recedes, their arms and hands come down. The atmosphere is in essence doing the same thing. When this wave nears us next week, air will be more prone to rise.
It appears that rising motion should arrive in the western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico sometime next week, and likely stick around into November.
There’s also a pretty clear-cut signal for that rising motion to be amplified by the MJO, or Madden-Julian Oscillation, another larger circulation that laps the tropics every 30 to 60 days. The convectively enhanced phase of the MJO, meaning the part of the feature where thunderstorms and rising air are more widespread, could stick around the western Atlantic into mid-November.
Putting it all together, there is reason to believe that another bout of tropical activity is likely in the Atlantic, probably featuring more named storms and potentially snagging the record for the most storms to ever form in an Atlantic hurricane season. There is some positive news in that we’re sort of running out the clock, with cooling waters and an increase in hostile upper-level winds to counter some of the more favorable storm ingredients.
But in a year like 2020, it’s not over until it’s over.