Climate Adaptation Center Predicts 14 Named Storms, Seven Hurricanes for 2023 Season
Sarasota's Climate Adaptation Center unveiled its 2023 hurricane forecast this morning. Here's the TL;DR: We can expect 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and two or three major hurricanes—that is, Category 3 or higher—this year, making for a normal to slightly above normal season.
The 2023 hurricane season officially kicks off Thursday, June 1, but the center's chief executive officer, Bob Bunting, warns that storms could start forming as early as May—especially because sea surface temperatures are high right now. Major hurricanes can form when water temps are 76 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Right now, the Gulf of Mexico is rapidly approaching 80 degrees—and it will only get warmer as we move into late spring and summer. Any storm traveling over these warm waters will get a major energy boost, Bunting says.
Hurricane Ian, which slammed into Florida last September, is a textbook example of how powerful a storm traveling over climate-warmed water can be. Ian formed gradually and then found power just south of Cuba as it traveled over water that was 5 degrees warmer than normal, then exploded into a Category 3 and did severe damage to western Cuba. As the storm traveled through the Gulf of Mexico, it went though a second rapid development cycle in less than 48 hours and blew up to a 150-mile-per-hour monster before roaring ashore with a 15-foot storm surge, a 500-year inland flood caused by 2 feet of rain and catastrophic winds and leaving behind a long-lasting red tide event that's still plaguing our region.
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In fact, Ian was just reclassified as a Category 5 storm, making it the second such storm to hit Florida since 2018, and the seventh Category 5 to form in the Atlantic in the last seven years.
Bunting stresses that everyone should have a plan for dealing with hurricanes, a plan that should include where you'll evacuate to and when you'll leave. Especially critical, he says, is knowing your elevation. For example, if a storm has 15-foot storm surge, like Ian did, a traditional ranch-style house that's only 5 feet above sea level can expect to take in 10 feet of water.
Another thing to consider, Bunting says, is that roads have not been raised to reflect the rising sea, which is 9 inches higher than it was in 1950. "A 1- to 3-foot raise in the elevation of an escape route could give people eight to 10 more hours to evacuate [before flooding begins] and allow thousands more people to leave," he says, urging citizens to call their representatives and ask them to make climate infrastructure a priority.
"We need to plan for a different climate than the one we knew in the 1990s and prevent the worst impacts by being truly prepared," Bunting says. "Let’s not learn the hard way! The cost can be managed somewhat by shifting focus from reaction only to preparation first and reaction after an event. Building codes need an immediate upgrade. They were designed mostly during the 1990s, when the climate was much more tame than it is now."
And how will hurricane season affect that huge sargassum bloom that's threatening to wash up on Florida's beaches? "If a hurricane comes up through the Gulf of Mexico, it will push the sargassum with it and exacerbate the chances of having a pileup on our shores," Bunting says. But, he adds, that's less likely to happen on the Gulf Coast than on the East Coast.
Despite our warming climate and the increasing threat of mega-storms, Bunting remains optimistic. "I have to be, or I wouldn't be doing this," he says. “We have the skills to predict these storms. I hope that we start looking at these storms for the threats they are and begin to change the way we do business. If we’re going to protect our Florida way of life, we’re going to have to build our infrastructure to survive our Florida way of life.”
And, in case you're curious, the hurricane names for this season are Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harold, Idalia, Jose, Katia, Lee, Margot, Nigel, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince and Whitney.