For me, May is a month that means my wedding anniversary, my wife’s birthday (the big “50” this year), and Mother’s Day. As you can guess, my wallet is a bit light at the end of this month. May is also a caution sign that the Atlantic hurricane season is right around the corner (June 1st). In the wake of two active seasons and the COVID-19 pandemic, here are four things that I am watching for this season.
What will the status of La Niña be? Tropical meteorology expert Phil Klotzbach tweeted, “The latest weekly Nino 3.4 sea surface temperature anomaly is -1.1°C, the coldest April weekly anomaly in this region since 1999. #LaNiña looks to be holding strongly for the time being….” Typically, the Atlantic hurricane season is more active, on average, during the La Niña phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. According the National Weather Service – Jackson office webpage, “During La Niña, westerly winds high in the atmosphere weaken.” A reduction in vertical wind shear can be favorable for Atlantic hurricane development.
What are the early season projections saying? The extended range Atlantic seasonal hurricane forecasts were recently released by Colorado State University, and they call for above-normal activity again. Their rationale is that La Niña conditions will transition to neutral by late summer int the fall. They also noted warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the subtropical Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. Temperatures are also normal to slightly above in the broader Atlantic Ocean as well. University of Miami hurricane expert Andy Hazleton tweeted this week, “New ECMWF seasonal forecast shows a slightly above-average Atlantic season, although it did back off a bit from last month’s forecast….” It is worth a reminder that the 2020 and 2021 seasons were quite active and exhausted the initial name lists consecutively for the first time on record.
Have decision-makers adjusted their playbooks? With rapid intensification of hurricanes being a common theme the past few seasons, I am convinced that policymakers and planners must adapt their playbooks. Cities like New Orleans, as we saw with Hurricane Ida, must issue evacuation orders at least 72 hours before tropical-storm winds impact land. Rapidly intensifying systems must generate a new discussion. I urge jurisdictions at the local to national level to rethink their operating with procedures with the 2022 or 2030s Atlantic hurricane season in mind not the 1970 season. Do we need hardened “stay in place” options? Do we need COVID-like evacuation fund pools? I don’t have an answer, but I think the questions are relevant.
What have we learned since COVID-19? A 2021 pilot study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society found that 74.3% of over 7000 respondents viewed being in a shelter within a pandemic as more of a risk than enduring hurricane hazards. They also found people have different perspectives during the actual event as opposed to during hypothetical planning. In a summary of their findings, Jennifer Collins and Amy Polen write in an blog, “These results highlight differences in the decisions people think they would make compared to those they actually make to protect themselves in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.” And while many of you may be rolling your eyes or noting that the COVID-19 pandemic is waning, keep in mind that many people who rely on shelters are from vulnerable groups and likely have a different tolerance for risk than you do.