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Slow start? The Carolinas have dodged hurricane season so far. Why that could change

Chase Karacostas, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in News & Features

The 2022 hurricane season has gotten off to a rather sluggish start.

For the first time since 2017, there were no named hurricanes in June or July. And, so far this year, there have only been three named tropical storms at all. Just one of them, Colin, reached the Carolinas.

Colin barely even qualified as a tropical storm. It was so weak that it stayed under forecasters’ radar until the last possible minute. The National Weather Service even said the storm would likely have a positive effect on the region, given how little rainfall there had been recently before Colin arrived in early July.

But a slow start to hurricane season doesn’t mean it’s time to let anyone’s guard down. In 2017, the last time there was similar season, Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc upon Houston, causing tens of billions of dollars in damage, much of which is still being paid for and fixed five years later.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated its 2022 hurricane season outlook Thursday morning, saying the chances for an above-normal hurricane season have declined slightly, from 65% to 60%, while the chances of a normal hurricane season have increased from 20% to 30%.

“While the tropics have been relatively quiet over the last month, remember that it only takes one landfalling storm to devastate a community,” said Matthew Rosencrans, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s climate prediction center. “This is especially critical as we head into what the team here, NOAA, anticipates is likely to be a busy peak to the season. So now is the time to know your risk, develop a plan, and be prepared for potential tropical storms or hurricanes ahead.”

Earlier this year, NOAA predicted “above normal activity” for the 2022 hurricane season. The federal agency said the Atlantic and Gulf coasts would likely see 14-21 named storms and six to 10 hurricanes. Also, three to six of the hurricanes would probably be “major hurricanes” — Category 3 or higher.

Now, NOAA forecasts that there will be 14-20 named storms and three to five major hurricanes. The range of hurricanes in general, six to 10, stayed the same.

A major reason for the slow start to hurricane season is the fact that ocean temperatures in the parts of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico where storms typically form have been normal or below average, Rosencrans said. Warm ocean surface temperatures are what give tropical storms the fuel they need to grow. Without that, the storms whither.

However, Rosencrans warned that having little tropical weather in June and July is fairly typical. Hurricane season peaks in September, with 90% of the storms for any year happening August through October. Last year, there was about a month-long lull between Hurricane Elsa, whose remnants hit the Carolinas, in early July and Tropical Storm Fred in August.

“And then it was about two storms a week, maybe two and a half storms a week. One week we had three — all into the end of September,” Rosencrans said. “So you can get very active years with these kind of lulls in them.”

An average season normally has roughly 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes, according to the National Weather Service.

Rosencrans didn’t have any location-specific details in the hurricane season update for the Carolinas, as NOAA outlook can only detail the broader chances of hurricanes appearing anywhere in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, not their eventual locations or whether they will make landfall. That kind of information is typically available after a storm appears, with about a week’s worth of advance warning.

 

The Carolinas have had a relatively quiet couple of years for hurricanes and tropical storms. The 2021 hurricane season had few impacts on either state other than heavy rainfall causing isolated flooding. The 2020 season, one of the most active ever to the point that the National Hurricane Center had to start giving the storms names from the Greek alphabet, was the last time either state had any significant effects.

Part of the reason there have been fewer storms this year might be because the height of hurricane season typically runs from August to October, after the waters in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico have had time to warm up from the winter, according to the National Weather Service. Warm water gives storms the fuel they need to turn into hurricanes. The entirety of hurricane season runs from June to November.

Regardless of the hurricane activity so far this season, national forecasters encouraged caution in Thursday’s update.

“In recent years, we’ve seen the threats from hurricanes expand beyond damaging winds and dangerous storm surge to torrential rains and flooding threatening life and property far from the initial landfall locations,” Rosencrans said. “If you are in a region prone to inland flooding, stay tuned to the National Hurricane Center for the latest watches and warnings. And be sure to adhere to advice from your local emergency managers during a storm should evacuation be necessary in your area.”

Hurricanes can also present a “hidden danger” — even if they are far off — to those on the coast by creating dangerous surf on the sunny days most likely to attract beach-goers. In 2021, Hurricane Larry, for example, was hundreds of miles away but still created rip currents and dangerous waters for swimming along the coastline.

The NWS says it’s important to prepare for hurricane season before it arrives. Here are a few steps to start thinking about.

—Develop an evacuation plan.Think about issues such as: What roads are you going to take? How can you avoid traffic?

—Make your “go-kit” now. Potential items include spare car keys, a two-week supply of medication, cash (ATMs might not work), phone chargers, hand sanitizer, hygiene items (toilet paper, menstrual products, diapers), important documents, a battery-operated emergency radio, a flashlight, batteries and rain gear.

—Make a checklist.You’ll be stressed in the moment and don’t want to forget anything. Both the American Red Cross and the U.S. government’s Ready.gov have checklists and resources for getting prepared.

—Think about transportation.Will you need help? See what resources your local government or aid groups have for getting you out if the need arises.

—Don’t just dismiss the storm. If the authorities are saying to get out, then do. It’s easy to dismiss tropical weather for those who think they’ve “been through it before,” but the NWS and climatologists say the storms are getting worse and worse due to climate change. Don’t risk your life or your family.

©2022 The Charlotte Observer. Visit charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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