Just as people began to breathe a sigh of relief, hoping that this year’s hurricane season would be a quiet one, Hurricane Ian caused people to hold their breath once again. Bottled water flew off the shelves of grocery stores, while people quickly put up shutters and boards around their homes and considered purchasing generators.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that this year would be above-normal, producing 14-20 named storms with 3-5 becoming Category 3, 4 or 5, which are considered as “major” hurricanes.
The peak of hurricane season is generally between September and October. On Sept. 11th, the NOAA had only named five storms.
Matthew Rosencrans, NOAA’s lead for the Seasonal Hurricane Outlook, said that there are a multitude of reasons for the inactivity that was seen for the first half of the season.
“It’s really looking like the dry air in the mid-levels of the atmosphere is the culprit. Take Fiona, for example. It was over warm enough sea surface temperatures, but it was really not able to grow because it continued to take in dry air,” Rosencrans said.
Conditions for a hurricane have been a mixed bag this season, with conditions that strengthen storms including weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds, active West-African monsoons and higher than average Atlantic sea surface temperatures. However, dust in the atmosphere and upper level atmospheric winds help prevent storms from organizing into hurricanes.
Because of the favorable conditions, Ian was able to form.
Forecasts show Hurricane Ian upgrading from its current status as a Category 2 storm to a Category 4 before making landfall.
Hurricane Ian is set to make landfall in Florida midweek. Many cities on the gulf side of the state have begun evacuations in low-lying areas. Additionally, universities along the gulf coast and in central Florida closed for the week.
Despite West Palm Beach not being in the direct path of the storm, other areas of Palm Beach County have closed schools, allowing residents to prepare for possible flooding and tornadoes that may result from the outer bands of the storm.
“People in South Florida right now should be putting together a hurricane supply kit together and keeping an eye on the Florida State emergency management website,” Rosencrans said.
Rosencrans said that some of the most disastrous Category 4 and 5 hurricanes were classified as tropical storms 48 hours prior to making landfall. Along with having a hurricane supply kit, Rosencrans and Jasmine Blackwell encourage people to make plans with their family members in the event that a storm does go from a tropical storm to a major hurricane in the span of hours.
Ian began as a tropical depression and quickly gained power as it moved through the Atlantic Ocean, going from a tropical depression to a Category 3 hurricane in a day.
“Forty-eight hours is not enough time to get a plan together,” Rosencrans said as “What would you do, where would you meet, how would you communicate and how would you get out of town? Even those five minutes of thinking can help you a lot later.”
NOAA has not dismissed the rest of this year’s season as inactive, with Blackwell, NOAA’s public affairs specialist, reiterating Rosencrans’ stress on preparation.
“We don’t know exactly how the rest of the season will pan out, so we encourage everyone to remain vigilant,” Blackwell said.
Once the season ends, the NOAA team will run simulations with factors that were observed during the season and compare those observations with models in order to strengthen predictions for the coming years.
By Madison Bakatsias