The Atlantic is record-warm right now. What does that mean for hurricane season?

Jack Prator and Michaela Mulligan, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Weather News

TAMPA, Fla. — Hurricane season is still months away, but warm winter waters in the Atlantic Ocean are already concerning some forecasters.

Water temperatures in the north Atlantic Ocean currently rival those normally seen during the summer months. By some estimates, this type of heat would only be seen once every 142,000 years.

Researchers say we are reaching the Atlantic Ocean’s winter peak — the first week of March typically marks the coldest water temperatures of the year and experts say the unseasonably warm waters will only get hotter after that.

On Florida’s west coast, the Gulf of Mexico has cooled off after a blistering summer that recorded hot tub-like temperatures. While a strong El Niño was responsible for warming Gulf waters just a few months ago, it has also boosted winter storms, whipping up winds and lowering surface temperatures.

But experts expect that as the summer approaches and El Niño wanes, Gulf waters will warm up again.

Jeff Masters, a hurricane scientist formerly with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, put it simply: “The planet is record-warm right now, and the planet’s oceans are record-warm.”


He says there are two factors contributing to the intense heat in the Atlantic. The El Niño pattern left water temperatures at least 10 degrees warmer than usual.

And a weak Bermuda-Azores High — a high pressure system hanging over the ocean — means the trade winds are weaker. That translates to less wind stirring up waters, which stifles any cooling effect.

Because of the Loop Current, which brings warm water from the Caribbean Sea to Florida’s coast, Masters said the Gulf is closely tied to the rest of the Atlantic.

“If the Caribbean is warm, then that warmth is going to find its way into the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.


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