Due to El Nino, the Pacific will have a busier hurricane season then usual.
For the Pacific, El Nino usually means trouble, while for the Atlantic and Caribbean, it means a break. However, this climate phenomenon isn't a certainty before hurricane season ramps up this summer, making it more difficult to predict what might happen. The destruction caused by a single storm (like Kauai's April 2018 flood) is also imperative to remember, even in quiet years or off-season times we should always be prepared.
A quick look at how El Nino affects storms and why two basins separated by only a narrow stretch of land tend to have opposite effects.
In the North Atlantic, tropical storms are typically formed over the warm waters off eastern Africa. On their way westward, they often hit Caribbean islands before making landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard or curving into the sea.
The eastern North Pacific has a greater tendency to produce tropical storms near land, particularly between Mexico and Clipperton Island off Central America. Typically, they move northwest before turning westward out to sea, sometimes flooding the Mexican Riviera. In 2018, Hurricane Lane hit Hawaii after a long-tracked Pacific storm moved into the central Pacific.
As a result of El Nino, the Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, creates a seesaw pattern. ENSO includes varying strength levels of El Nino and La Nina. As a result of El Nino, the trade winds that blow east to west weaken, allowing warm ocean water to build up west of South America at the equator. It affects rainfall patterns and temperature patterns by shifting jet streams - strong upper-level winds.
El Nino in the Atlantic Ocean results in a low-pressure area in the upper atmosphere, causing the upper-level winds to become stronger, increasing vertical wind shear - changes in wind speed or direction with height. As a result of wind shear, fewer hurricanes are formed because storms are tilted and stabilized.
An El Nino, on the other hand, produces an upper-level ridge, or area of high pressure, and decreased vertical wind shear in the eastern North Pacific basin, which usually results in an active hurricane season.
The eastern Pacific hurricane season starts May 15th, and the Atlantic season starts June 1st, with both running through Nov. 30.
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Sean Ahearn & Jim Karlovsky