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2022 Atlantic hurricane season quiet so far, but busy period awaits

A map showing no expected cyclone activity in the Atlantic.

The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season has been relatively quiet so far, despite experts predicting an above-average season following an active 2021. WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Brian Tang, an associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at the University at Albany, about what could be on the horizon.

Tang: Well, we've had three tropical storms so far, which is running a little bit behind the pace of last year. And July, in particular, has been quite quiet. But we have to remember that hurricane season runs from June to November, and typically August, September and October are our busiest months. So we have a long way to go.

Levulis: So what are the conditions that are existing that's making it a relatively quiet season so far?

Tang: We've had a lot of dry sinking air over much of the tropical Atlantic where hurricanes typically form around this time of year, and that prevents thunderstorm clusters from growing and organizing into hurricanes.

Levulis: And what about that changes, typically, in the time period that we're heading into, that you say leads to the busier time of the season?

Tang: So usually, that dry air starts to go away, that atmosphere begins to moisten, instead of sinking air, we have more rising air, and that helps these thunderstorm clusters grow, and then organize into hurricanes.

Levulis: And you mentioned the dry conditions in the tropical areas, but in the Northeast, we're seeing some drought conditions as well as. Albany also hit a record 99 degrees on August 4. What do those hotter than average summer temperatures, these drought conditions tell us about the climate?

Tang: So in terms of the summer weather, it certainly has been hot and dry. When we look at what's happening globally, when we talk about climate change, we always have to take a global perspective. There certainly have been a number of really high impact heat waves occurring across the world, including the ones that we've been experiencing in the Northeast. And that is the signal of climate change. We know that climate change will cause an increase in heat waves. We have high confidence as a scientific community that has happened and will continue to happen in the future.

Levulis: And now I understand you're also leading a $2 million project through the Office of Naval Research regarding the forecasting of hurricanes. Can you explain what that will involve?

Tang: Yes, so that project involves understanding situations in which hurricanes rapidly intensify. So a situation when a hurricane strengthens very quickly, over a day or so. This is typically quite dangerous because it can escalate the danger. For example, if we have a hurricane near land and say it's a category 1 storm, and it's not predicted to rapidly intensify, but it does overnight, then suddenly, everyone's waking up to a category 3 or even a category 4 storm. And that requires a vastly different preparation strategy and an evacuation strategy. So we want to understand what causes these storms to rapidly intensify. Are there hints that a hurricane gives us that lets us know it's about to rapidly intensify?

Levulis: That's very interesting. And then you've also been selected to co-lead a National Science Foundation study on what's called down shear reformation. What will that entail?

Fang: So downshear reformation is when a new hurricane center forms on one side or hurricane where the thunderstorms are more concentrated. You can think of it like a second birth of a storm when a hurricane is in its early stages of its development. And when the center jumps like that, it can result in shifts in the hurricane’s future track, and also its intensity. So we don't fully understand why this occurs. Not all storms do this. So we want to analyze observations collected in past storms that did undergo downshear reformation and also run really high resolution computer simulations to understand the physics of why this occurs.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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