Earlier start to hurricane season? NOAA debates starting future Atlantic seasons in May

Tracking the Tropics

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — All Floridians know the Atlantic hurricane season runs every year from June 1 through Nov. 30, but that could change in coming years as federal weather officials look to potentially start future hurricane seasons even earlier.

Dennis Feltgen with the NOAA says there have been discussions about potentially moving the start of the hurricane season to May 15 instead of June 1. The idea was talked about at the NOAA Hurricane Conference in December.

According to Feltgen, the recommendation was made to assemble a team this year to discuss the idea. The team would be made up of members of the NHC, NWS Eastern Region HQ, NWS Southern Region HQ and NWS HQ.

“That will likely occur sometime this spring. Considerations for the team would include a determination of a quantitative threshold for adding or removing dates from the official Atlantic hurricane season,” Feltgen said. “Then, an examination would need to take place regarding the need for, and potential ramifications of, potentially moving the beginning of the hurricane season to May 15.”

He added that the topic will also be discussed at the annual World Meteorological Organization Region IV committee meeting in mid-March.

Feltgen said regardless of what happens with discussions and any potential changes, the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season will not be impacted. It will start on June 1 as usual.

The National Hurricane Center will, however, start routinely issuing Tropical Weather Outlooks on May 15. Feltgen said that change is being made to “provide more consistent information on the potential for late May and early June systems.” He pointed out that the NHC issued 36 “special” Tropical Weather Outlooks before the official June 1 start of the hurricane season in 2020.

“Named storms have formed prior to the official start of the hurricane season in about half of the past 10-15 years, including each of the past six years,” he said. “Many of the May systems are short-lived, hybrid (subtropical) systems that are now being identified because of better monitoring and policy changes that now name subtropical storms.”

As Feltgen pointed out, the Atlantic hurricane basin has seen pre-season named storms every year since 2015. Tropical Storm Ana formed on May 8, 2015. Hurricane Alex formed as a “very unusual January hurricane” on Jan. 12, 2016. Tropical Storm Arlene formed in April 2017, Tropical Storm Alberto formed in late May of 2018 and Subtropical Storm Andrea formed in May of 2019. Last year, Tropical Storm Arthur formed off the east coast of Florida on May 16. Tropical Storm Bertha also formed before the official start of the season, on May 27.

But Dr. Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist from Colorado State University, told the Washington Post he’s not sure if the wave of pre-hurricane season storms seen in recent years is actually the start of a new trend.

“The improved sensing technology was available in the 2000s, but we didn’t see much of an increase in pre-1 June named storms during that decade,” Klotzbach told the Post. “Given that these storms are typically pretty weak, it’s hard to say for sure if this is a trend that will continue into the future.”

Klotzbach and his team at CSU will release their first official 2021 hurricane season forecast on April 8. NOAA typically releases its own hurricane season forecast in May.

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was a hyperactive and record-breaking one with a total of 30 named storms – including 13 hurricanes, six of which reached major hurricane strength. The Atlantic basin blew through the alphabet of storm names and had to turn to the Greek alphabet by mid-September. It was the first time the Greek alphabet had to be used since the 2005 hurricane season.

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April 24 2021 08:00 am

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