After 2021 saw the third-most named storms on record, another active hurricane season is likely this year.
A forecast released Thursday by researchers at Colorado State University predicts 19 named storms will form in the Atlantic basin during the 2022 hurricane season, which stretches from June 1 to the end of November. That’s well above the average of 14.4 named storms observed from 1991 to 2020.
Though Georgia hasn’t suffered a major direct landfall since 1898, several storms have walloped the state in recent years after striking first elsewhere. Hurricane Michael, for instance, in 2018, first hit the Florida Panhandle before churning through south Georgia, causing billions of dollars in property damage and crop losses.
Damage from Michael lingers three and a half years later.
Tim Burch grows cotton and peanuts on his 2,000-acre farm in Baker County. The storm devastated his cotton crop and flattened buildings across his property, including some that were 100 years old, he said.
“There are scars everywhere I turn,” he said.
The Atlantic produced 21 named storms last year, slightly more than the 17 that Colorado State researchers predicted. The 2021 season was so prolific, all 21 storm names were exhausted, something that also happened in 2020.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Of the 19 storms projected this year, the researchers say nine will likely reach hurricane strength and four will achieve major hurricane status, with winds of 111 miles per hour or greater.
The researchers say this season could be similar to last year, which produced Hurricane Ida and several other damaging storms. Georgia was fortunate to avoid a direct hit from Ida, but the state was hit hard by tropical storms Fred and Elsa, which whipped up tornadoes and left thousands in the dark.
Conditions this year are also expected to be similar to those seen in 2012, the forecast says. That year produced Hurricane Sandy, which raked the East Coast and ranks as one of the costliest storms in U.S. history. Georgia dodged that storm, too.
The scientists also calculated the odds for each state along the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast to see a storm come within 50 miles. Florida has the highest chance of seeing a hurricane near it, followed by Louisiana and Texas.
For Georgia, there’s a 46% chance that at least one hurricane will come near the state this season, and a 10% chance that a major hurricane will approach, the analysis shows. Both probabilities are considered above average.
Experts: Climate change is fueling storms
The main factors driving this season’s dour forecast is the expected absence of El Niño conditions. The phenomenon, which is triggered by warm water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, tends to push strong winds across the Caribbean, preventing hurricanes from forming, the report says.
At the same time, sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean and subtropical regions of the Atlantic Ocean have been well above average. Warmth in those parts of the ocean is correlated with more active hurricane seasons, the researchers say.
Climate change is triggering changes in the oceans and atmosphere that are amplifying storms, scientists say.
Global sea levels have risen by between eight and nine inches since 1880, and nearly two-thirds of that increase has occurred in the last 25 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). As sea level rise accelerates, it will allow damaging storm surge to reach farther inland, said Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State’s Department of Atmospheric Science and the lead author of the report.
A warmer atmosphere can also hold more moisture, allowing storms to dump more rain and increase flooding risks, he said.
Models are not as good at predicting whether climate change will shift storm tracks and whether those changes will lead more storms to strike Georgia, Klotzbach said.
Hurricane impacts reach farther inland
An unnamed storm in 1898 that made landfall on Cumberland Island was Georgia’s last major direct strike. Brunswick bore the brunt of that storm, which killed at least 179 people.
But storms can still bring damaging rain, winds and spawn tornadoes far from where they first come onshore. Hurricane Irma in 2017 brought strong winds all the way to Atlanta, placing the city under its first-ever tropical storm warning.
Among the worst for Georgia was Michael in 2018. Fueled by warm temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, the storm made landfall on the Florida Panhandle as a category 5 storm. It maintained hurricane strength as it pushed into southwest Georgia, devastating pecan, cotton and vegetable crops, as well as the timber industry. All told, the storm triggered an estimated $3 billion in losses for the state’s agricultural sector.
Michael exposed vulnerabilities in Georgia far from the coast, Klotzbach said.
Some recent research found that hurricanes are maintaining their strength farther inland, potentially increasing the odds for damaging winds to lash cities like Atlanta, that have rarely experienced them.
“It doesn’t require a hurricane making landfall in Georgia to cause significant impacts to the state,” he said.
Klotzbach’s team will release their next forecast update on June 2. NOAA is expected to release its annual forecast in May.
Hurricane season in Georgia
Hurricane season begins on June 1. A new forecast predicts this will be another active season. Georgia’s odds of having a hurricane approach the state are 46%, slightly above the long-term average, a Colorado State University report said Thursday. A major hurricane has not made landfall in Georgia in more than a century. But Georgia has been hit hard by storms that came onshore in other states, particularly Hurricane Michael in 2018.