MIAMI — It was clear way back in mid-September, when the National Hurricane Center had already exhausted its regular list of names and turned to the Greek alphabet, that 2020 would be a hurricane season for the record books.
It definitely was that. The season, which formally ends every Nov. 30, produced a stunning 30 named storms — breaking the 2005 record of 28. It was only the second time forecasters resorted to the backup list of names and, as if to punctuate how wild a season it was, that first Greek-letter system, Tropical Storm Alpha, wound up hitting Portugal — the first recorded strike by a tropical system in that country's history.
Though there was a lot of anxious monitoring of the storm-track cones, Florida's only real brushes this year were Hurricane Sally, a Category 2 that struck the western Panhandle in September, and Tropical Storm Eta, whose zig-zagging path brought it over Central America, Cuba, South Florida and North Florida in the course of a week. Both storms brought destructive flooding to the Sunshine State, in some cases leaving neighborhoods in Miami-Dade and Broward counties underwater for days.
"The track map of 2020 is just insane when you look at it; the Caribbean and the Gulf were just plastered with storms," said Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University. "Thankfully, given how many storms and how many landfalls there were, Florida made out pretty well."
Other Gulf Coast states were not as lucky. Storm after storm entered the bathtub warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and crashed into the northern Gulf Coast days later. A record-breaking five named storms made landfall in Louisiana, including Hurricane Laura, a deadly Category 4, and Hurricane Delta, a Category 2, six weeks later. The paths of the two storms were less than 15 miles apart.
And in Central America, the unprecedented back-to-back devastation of Hurricanes Eta and Iota crippled the region and left hundreds dead.
The eyebrow-raising number of storms could even grow a bit after the season's formal end. Two systems wandering around harmlessly in the open Atlantic may yet gain strength and potentially, names. It all raises the question: Is 2020 a harbinger of things to come? So far, scientists say, they don't see enough change in historical patterns to think so — and more sophisticated satellite monitoring of far-off systems may explain some share of the increased counts over the last few decades.
Still, there is wide agreement that climate change is sure to affect future storms in all kinds of ways — starting with making some of them wetter and stronger. Researchers don't yet see enough evidence to suggest a warming world will mean a string of record-breaking years lies ahead.
Hurricane scientists said it's too soon to say what next year may bring. The earliest official predictions don't come out until the spring, so there's a long way to go before experts can make an educated guess about the 2021 season
However, Klotzbach said the weather pattern that helped pushed 2020 to "hyperactive" status, La Nina, isn't likely to stick around for next year. The opposite weather pattern, El Nino, has a dampening effect on storms.