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Record-Breaking Atlantic Hurricane Season for 2020

Here at the Barque Picton Castle we are naturally keenly interested in weather, weather trends, weather forecasts, and of course, the North Atlantic Hurricane Season. With a little research, we offer you the following synopsis. It has already been a record-breaking hurricane season for the Atlantic coast, and meteorologists are estimating that we will likely see an above-average active year for storms.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1st and lasts until November 30th, with peak activity occurring from late August to the end of September.

Last month, the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Climate Prediction Center estimated that 2020 would be a record year for hurricanes along the Atlantic coastline. Just one month later, we have already seen one hurricane in May before the official season began, and two tropical storms, breaking the record previously set back in 2016 for the most named storms by this date.

We have already seen the following three storms this season:

  1. May 2020 – Hurricane Arthur
  2. May 2020 – Tropical Storm Bertha
  3. June 2020 – Tropical Storm Cristobal, earliest third named storm in the North Atlantic Ocean on record, breaking the record set by Tropical Storm Colin in 2016.

In addition to the early storms, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a very busy season, including:

  • A possible range of 13 to 19 named storms of winds of 39 mph or higher (an average season will produce 12 storms),
  • That 6 to 10 of these named storms could become hurricanes of winds of 74 mph or higher, including 3 to 6 major hurricanes of a category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher (an average season will typically see 6 hurricanes, including 3 major hurricanes).

The history of giving hurricanes and tropical storms names goes back the early 19th century in the West Indies. According to the NOAA, these storms were originally named after the Saint’s Day on which they occurred. Naming hurricanes – using the international alphabet language at the time – became the official common practice of the National Hurricane Centre in the 1950s. As more than one hurricane occurred simultaneously, meteorologists found that giving names to a storm helped track their paths much easier rather than use longitude and latitude to describe them.

Forecasters eventually moved away from using the international alphabet language and put together a preselected list of female names for storms being tracked through the Atlantic coastline. According to History Canada, the reason for using only female names is “not entirely clear why, but the maritime tradition of referring to the ocean as a woman may have played a factor”. This practice was eventually ended in 1979, after successful campaigns led by female activists in the USA led the change to include male names in the list of annual hurricanes.

The NOAA states that they do not control the names of tropical storms today, rather this is a procedure implemented by the World Meteorological Association. A list of hurricane names has been issued for six years, and one list is repeated every seventh year.  However, if a hurricane causes enough destruction and devastation, the name is retired and never repeated again. You can find a list of retired names on the NOAA website at this link: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutnames_history.shtml.

But how can hurricane seasons be predicted so far in advance? As you can imagine, it’s difficult to estimate what to expect from weather months ahead into the future. By using satellites and radars, meteorologists are able to collect data measurements such as air pressure, temperature, and wind speeds. According to Live Science, this data is then “fed into numerical simulations run on supercomputers” and is compared to weather observations to determine if a storm is coming.

The predictions and reports provided by the NOAA are extremely valuable to the safety of ships heading out to sea. However, ships play a vital role in the history of collecting meteorological data at sea – for decades the only way to obtain weather information from our oceans was by ship. Today, although scientists are now able to collect data via satellites, the tradition of collecting data via ships is still carried on through the World Wide Voluntary Ship Program, where approximately 4000 ships across the globe share their collected meteorological data daily with the NOAA.

For shore crew and professional crew alike with the Picton Castle, we’ll be keeping a very close eye on weather and storm predictions leading up to our anticipated fall departure.