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If you’re wondering what happened to that hyper-busy 2022 hurricane season, forecasters say wait

Philadelphia Inquirer logo Philadelphia Inquirer 8/15/2022 Anthony R. Wood, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Sign alerts motorists about flooding on Vine Street Expressway from the remnants of Ida in September. So far, no remnants have affected the Philly region this year. It's early. © ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS Sign alerts motorists about flooding on Vine Street Expressway from the remnants of Ida in September. So far, no remnants have affected the Philly region this year. It's early.

After two years of alphabet-exhausting tropical storms, and the disruptive remnants that have soaked the Philly region, the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season is off to a surprisingly benign start.

And it may have something to do with all the heat the Philly region and much of the East endured July into August.

All those ominous outlooks notwithstanding, for the first time in seven years, no hurricane has formed in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or the Gulf of Mexico by Aug. 15. The long-term average for a first hurricane, one with peak winds of at least 74 mph, is Aug. 11.

So far only three named storms — those with qualifying winds of at least 39 mph — have developed, and none since Colin fizzled back on July 3.

“It sure has been quiet the past few weeks in the Atlantic,” said Philip Klotzbach, a Colorado State University hurricane specialist who was among those calling for quite an active season. He still is, but in his update issued Aug. 4, he bumped down his numbers slightly.

On the same day that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters at the Climate Prediction Center also subtly — very subtly, as in magnifying-glass level — downgraded their outlooks.

The early outlooks saw quite an active hurricane season

However, be apprised that the climatological peak of the season doesn’t arrive until Sept. 10, and forecasters are confident that even if this one doesn’t match the output of the destructive 2020 and 2021 seasons, it still will have ended up being quite a busy one.

In the meantime, here is what hurricane experts say is behind the late start.

Saharan dust

Klotzbach and AccuWeather’s Jonathan Porter cite the dust coming off the Sahara Desert as a factor.

This so-called ultra-dry Saharan Air Layer, or SAL, an annual occurrence, has been occupying the air in the hurricane-spawning grounds, and it is quite an effective tropical storm repellent, according to Jason Dunion, SAL researcher with the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School and other specialists.

The Saharan Air Layer does have an upside

Disturbances along the southern Sahara lift massive amounts of dust that can be 2-miles thick or more as it travels across the Atlantic from late June to mid-August, he says. That can put the kibosh on would-be tropical storms.

“Interestingly, the U.S. East Coast has seen quite a bit more Saharan dust than usual, especially from mid-July to early August,” Dunion said. That may have something to do with the area of high pressure over the Atlantic that baked the East with heat. “But for now, I’d call it a mystery that we’ll need to dig into.”

“SAL certainly has helped keep things calm,” Klotzbach said last week.. “We can see a fair amount of dry air across the tropical Atlantic.”

SAL isn’t solely responsible for lack of hurricanes so far, however.

Cooler Atlantic

Sea-surface temperatures in the “main development region” have been below long-term averages at times during the last two months, say the climate center specialists.

Warm water is a critical fuel source for hurricanes.

In addition, says Klotzbach, the temperature contrasts have been favorable for stirring up shearing winds that can keep a storm from developing.

Wind shear

Hurricanes form and grow when warm, moist air over the ocean rises. Strong upper-level shearing winds can put a cap on the ascending air, stifling a storm’s growth.

“We’ve had some decent pulses of stronger-than-normal shear over the past two months,” Klotzbach said, although not “crazy strong.”

And conditions in the tropical Pacific, where sea-surface temperatures are below normal, or in La Niña, argue for an uptick in hurricane activity.

Coming soon?

La Niña, which tends to lessen shearing winds in the Atlantic Basin, correlates well with active seasons, hurricane specialists say.

In its update last week, the climate center said it was likely to persist into December, and the consensus among forecasters is that an uptick in activity is inevitable.

The climate center’s latest outlook calls for 14 to 21 named storms, with six to 10 hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes, those with winds of 111 mph.

What happens in the tropical Pacific can have huge effects around here

It also saw a 60% probability of an above-average season. The 30-year averages are 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three majors.

The August outlook differs ever so slightly from its May forecast of 14 to 20 total storms, with a 65% chance of above-average activity.

In his August forecast, Klotzbach predicted 18 named storms and eight hurricanes, down from 20 and eight from his July outlook.

Mark Friedlander, with the Insurance Information Institute, pointed out that 30 years ago, the first hurricane of the year didn’t form until Aug. 22.

That was Andrew, a Category 5 that buzz-sawed across the Florida Peninsula and became one of the deadliest and costliest storms on record.

“All it takes is one ... to make it an active season for you and your family,” he said.

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