Will hurricane season start earlier? Not this year, but forecasters are considering it

Alex Harris
·2 min read

The official June 1 start of hurricane season isn’t changing — at least not yet. But after six years in a row with named storms forming ahead of that longtime opening date, the National Hurricane Center is pondering an earlier start and has decided to push up its own monitoring schedule.

The NHC announced Tuesday that it will begin issuing daily outlooks at 8 a.m. on May 15 — two weeks earlier than in the past. The decision comes after the 2020 hurricane season shattered records with 30 named storms, including two that formed in May.

Throughout the six months of the season, hurricane scientists post regular updates on marine and atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico — the places where tropical systems develop. The reports are the earliest indicators of potential storms in the works.

In the past, updates weren’t issued routinely, only if something popped up in one of the basins they monitor. Now the statements will come on a regular schedule.

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Pre-season storms have grown increasingly common in recent years; about half of the past 10 to 15 seasons have had an early storm. Experts, including at the NHC, attribute that to better satellite monitoring that allows them to identify what some call “junk storms.”

“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,” Dennis Feltgen, spokesperson for the NHC, said in a statement.

But some research has shown that climate change may play a role as well, by heating up the sea surface and lengthening the window for storms to form. The science of how climate change affects hurricanes is complicated, but there’s growing scientific confidence that global warming could lead to wetter and stronger storms in the future, although NOAA research suggests that fewer storms could form in a hotter world.

For now, the official start date of hurricane season isn’t changing, although a team of experts from the hurricane center and several National Weather Service regions will meet this year to discuss it.

“Considerations for the team would include a determination of a quantitative threshold for adding or removing dates from the official Atlantic hurricane season. 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,” Feltgen said in his statement.

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