May 13, 2024

USM Professor Expects Active Hurricane Season

Darkhorse Press

Dr. David Holt

Dr. David Holt, Associate Professor of Geography at The University of Southern Mississippi, offers some candid advice for wary watchers as another hurricane season approaches.

“The prediction this year is a bunch of watching the Weather Channel with your scram bag packed. Have a plan and don’t get apathetic,” said Holt.

Hurricane season officially begins on June 1 and lasts until November 30. All indications point to 2024 as being one of the more active seasons on record. Last month, Colorado State University issued its Atlantic hurricane forecast, with a prediction of 23 named storms, 11 hurricanes and five major hurricanes.

Holt does not dispute the Colorado State University forecast. He expects a rather active hurricane season, if not record-breaking.

“The concern is the record winter warmth we are having – last year and this year and a strong La Niña, a shift of warm water to the west Pacific,” said Holt. “Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen sea surface temperatures go from 24 to 28 degrees Celsius (75 to 82 Fahrenheit). The magic number is 26.5 Celsius or about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Added Holt, “So we have sea surface temperatures hitting the target temperature in May – over the June-November hurricane season, which has officially lengthened now due to warming. The models are showing an uptick in tropical storm formation since we are meeting a base requirement so early.”

In 2023, the U.S. mainland only experienced the direct impacts of one hurricane, causing the quietest season for the Lower 48 in more than a decade. Despite a lack of U.S. impacts, 20 named storms formed, which included seven hurricanes.

Holt explains that La Niña statistically creates an uptick in tropical storm formation. However, growing from a tropical storm to a hurricane is practically impossible to predict.

“Also problematic is the rate of tropical storm to hurricane is difficult to model,” said Holt. “La Niña also seems to develop a bunch of Atlantic storms, thus Florida and the East Coast become big concerns. The Gulf is always an issue, because if we get a tropical storm formed, it usually makes landfall unless it breaks up.”

As technology advances, is there a chance forecasters can accurately predict the number and intensity of hurricanes in the future?

“A model is just that – a guess. If we know more conditions, we can improve our models, but they are really just tools to see how to prepare,” said Holt. “No model is perfect. Also, a single storm can be devastating if it hits you.”

Again, Holt stresses the importance of preparedness as another hurricane season inches closer.

“Remember Hurricane Zeta (Oct. 28, 2020)? It was supposed to be a Category 1 and fast-moving,” said Holt. “It hit as a Cat 3 overnight and really damaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Most of us, myself included, did little to prepare since it was so late in the season and ‘only a Cat 1.’ ”

The hurricane season of 2005 holds the record with 28 named storms, including 15 hurricanes (seven of which were major). In August of that year, Hurricane Katrina created catastrophic damage in southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi.

Holt notes that if the current projections hold true, this season would be the second most-active.

Best to keep that scram bag handy.

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