TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — For the first time in three years, El Niño is back, and its arrival is earlier than expected. Its formation usually means quieter hurricane seasons in the Atlantic basin.

That’s because El Niño’s warming in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean typically causes more wind shear to flow into the Caribbean and Gulf, inhibiting storm formation. Over the last three decades, El Niño years have produced about half the number of hurricanes that La Niña years have produced in the Atlantic Basin.

But this year could be different. A sudden spike in ocean temperatures across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans has far surpassed record levels. That extra energy could cancel out El Niño’s calming effects.


“We look at storms that have formed during El Niño years, and there are not a lot over the past 30 years,” WFLA Meteorologists Amanda Holly said. “But there are storms that impacted the United States during the EL Niño years, some of those being significant storms.”

WIAT Meteorologist Alex Puckett pointed to the below-average hurricane season of 1992 as one example.

“Only four hurricanes during the entire season,” Puckett said. “One of them was Andrew. So it only takes that one storm.”

Scientists all around the world are struggling to explain the phenomenon. The question remains: Which feature will steer the 2023 hurricane season?

Puckett said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) forecast of a “near-average season” is “a tough one.”

“I really tend to think this will be a feast or famine season for us,” he said. “It only takes the one storm. At the end of the day, you can have a below-average season but if you have an Andrew, it’s a bad year.”

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