Climate Classroom: How Will El Niño Affect Hurricane Season?

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – After three years of La Niña, El Niño is likely just around the corner. According to NOAA, there is a 90% chance that El Niño will form by summer and a 50% chance that it will be a strong episode. El Niño usually means calmer Atlantic hurricane seasons.

Over the past 30 years, La Niña years have seen roughly twice as many hurricanes as El Niño years in the Atlantic basin. That’s because El Niño warming in the eastern tropical Pacific typically causes more wind shear to travel to the Caribbean and Gulf, preventing storms from forming.

But this year there is a complication. Sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic are very warm – the second highest on record. This extra energy available to the developing storms could cancel out the effects of El Niño. The question is: what feature will be the driving force behind the 2023 hurricane season?

In this week’s Climate Classroom, we’ll have a say dr Andy Hazeltona hurricane modeler from NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division in Miami to find out his thoughts on the upcoming hurricane season.

We also highlight the biggest climate headlines of the week!

1. Global oceans have been well above record levels since the beginning of this year. For the past three years, La Nina — a cool episode in the Pacific — has obscured years of ocean absorption of excess climate change heat. El Nino will only add to the sea heat.

2. Cyclone Mocha made landfall in Myanmar last weekend. It peaked with winds of 175 miles per hour – the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the northern Indian Ocean. 1300 refugee shelters were destroyed. A 2022 study found that the region has seen an increase in extremely heavy tropical systems due to ocean warming.

3. The EPA has proposed new rules for power plants. Eliminate 90% of the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet by 2038. If enshrined in law, gas and coal-fired power plants — which provide 85% of US electricity — will need to install carbon capture technologies or switch to renewable energy. The Inflation Reduction Act provides billions in subsidies for carbon capture, but it doesn’t make economic sense yet – and it hasn’t been proven on a large scale. Regardless, power plant operators could now be faced with a choice: get carbon capture up and running, no matter how much it costs, or shut down oil and gas plants.

4. And finally, some potentially good news for nuclear fusion, known as the holy grail of energy – the energy source that powers the sun. It always feels like 20 years have passed. But Microsoft has just signed a power purchase agreement with the company Helion, which begins in 2028. However, industrial fusion is nowhere near complete and experts are skeptical they can make the timeline. But this announcement could be the lunar burst needed to make nuclear fusion a reality.

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