Coastal residents such as Monroe County Commissioner Craig Cates, a lifelong Key West native and the city’s mayor from 2009-18, don’t frighten easily. Resiliency is a way of life when you’ve seen “many, many hurricanes” come your way.
The coronavirus shutdowns have brought new hardships for an area reliant on tourism, which accounts for “a good 50 percent of our economy,” Cates told AccuWeather’s Monica Danielle. The economic math isn’t great at the moment as Key West has roughly 25,000 permanent residents and typically draws more than 3 million visitors a year. But now “everything’s basically shut down,” he said.
“We’re dipping into our reserves with no chance to make them up by hurricane season,” Cates said. “That is our concern … We can’t afford a hurricane this year, for sure.”
AccuWeather’s updated 2020 Atlantic Basin hurricane forecast perhaps won’t brighten the spirits of Key West or other United States coastal residents.
Based on the newest forecasting models, AccuWeather forecasters have extended the upper range of hurricanes predicted for the Atlantic hurricane season. The hurricane team, led by Dan Kottlowski, the company’s top hurricane expert, is now predicting 14 to 20 tropical storms, with additions also to the number of storms that become hurricanes: seven to 11 this season.
Kottlowski also increased the number of major hurricanes – Category 3 or higher – that could develop this season to four to six. Kottlowski warned that four to six named tropical systems could make direct impacts on the U.S mainland, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The initial 2020 Atlantic hurricane forecast was released in late March and called for 14 to 18 named tropical storms, seven to nine hurricanes and two to four major hurricanes.
“New climate model runs show a trend toward La Niña evolving during the second half of the upcoming summer,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski, the company’s top hurricane expert. “This would suggest a decrease in the episodes of vertical wind shear, which can limit tropical development and intensification.
“This new information gives us more confidence of the potential – again, still potential – for a very active season,” Kottlowski said.
Wind shear is the phenomenon in which wind speed or direction changes with altitude. It can cause the higher parts of a hurricane or storm to be tilted in the opposite direction of where the storm or hurricane is moving.
La Niña, a pattern that influences weather factors and winds around the world, occurs when water temperatures in the central and equatorial Pacific are cooler than normal. Active hurricane seasons in the Atlantic can result when a La Niña pattern is present due to a general reduction in wind shear over parts of the Atlantic Ocean, including the central and western parts of the basin, which churn out a large majority of tropical systems.
The 2020 season follows four straight years during which there were at least two U.S.-landfalling hurricanes, with Barry and Dorian striking in 2019. That’s the longest streak since 1947-50 and only twice since 1851 has the streak reached at least five years (1932-36 and 1876-82).