UNC Marine Scientists examine our record breaking hurricane season

The season is marked with an unprecedented amount of storms and several major hurricanes.
Published: Nov. 13, 2020 at 7:26 PM EST
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MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WITN) - There’s still a bit of the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season left, and it’s already been one for the record books. The season is marked with an unprecedented amount of storms and several major hurricanes.

Experts at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences say unfortunately this is a trend we’ve been seeing more of over the past 20 years. It’s not just the larger amount of storms we’re seeing but also their strength and intensity.

“We’re starting to understand over the last decade or two what makes these storms tick and what makes it likely that we’ll have a lot of storms or only a few storms and the details are complicated but at the big picture level it has to do with how warm the surface of the ocean is, and the amount of wind shear that’s out there," said Dr. Rick Luettich.

Dr. Luettich and others in the science community, like Dr. Hans Paerl, say the warming ocean temperatures are feeding these systems with the energy they need to cause more destruction and now they are bringing more rain and moisture than ever before as well.

Dr. Paerl and his team published a paper in 2019 looking at the trends of tropical systems over the last 120 years and their findings were on point with the hurricane season we’ve seen this year, “6 out of 7 of the wettest storms over the entire 120-year data set have occurred in the last 20 years,” said Dr. Paerl.

Dr. Paerl and Dr. Luettich also agree that tropical systems are starting to form more throughout the year and not just in the warm summer months. “Things are getting more extreme and the time extent is getting, stretching out, it’s starting earlier in the year and lasting later in the year,” explained Dr. Paerl.

Dr. Luettich also says that global meteorological factors play into how favorable conditions will be for these tropical systems like if we’re experiencing an El Nino or a La Nina year, like we are right now.

“We just understand what causes these things to tick, to know that the warming climate is leading us in the direction of stronger storms, wetter storms and perhaps more storms, but certainly in years of low shear,” said Dr. Leuttich.

Hurricane season doesn’t officially end until November 30th.

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