The 2017 hurricane season was catastrophic, racking up almost $200 billion in damage and resulting in more than 3,000 deaths.
Almost all the damage was caused by the three worst hurricanes: Harvey, Irma and Maria, all of which have had their names retired due to the devastation they caused.
Featuring 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 6 major hurricanes, the 2017 season ranks alongside 1936 as the fifth-most active season since reliable records began in 1851.
And now, with Hurricane Florence named as the first major hurricane of the 2018 season – an unprecedented pattern for this time of year – this year could be shaping up to be another disastrous one.
This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasted the 2018 hurricane season would be strong and slightly above the average.
According to the NOAA Climate Prediction Centre, there’s a 75 percent chance the season will be mostly normal, or a little stronger.
NOAA added there’s a 70 percent chance of between 10 and 16 named storms this year.
And of those, five to nine of them will become hurricanes, with winds of 74mph or above.
Hurricane season 2018: The 2017 hurricane season was catastrophic, resulting in more than 3,000 dead
One to four of the storms could become ‘major hurricanes’, reaching above a category 3, with winds at 111 mph or above, as we’re now seeing in Florence.
So either Florence will be the only one, or, more likely, the first.
Why are the hurricanes getting worse?
Professor of Meteorology Mark Bourassa from Florida State University’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, told Express.co.uk: “The biggest issue is that more people are located and building in vulnerable areas.
“Another factor is that rising sea level is making locations much more vulnerable.”
Hurricane season 2018: Hurricanes in 2017 racked up almost $200 billion in damage
This explains the rising death tolls. But what about the intensity of the storms?
Professor Bourassa said: “Slightly higher sea surface temperatures might play a role.
“But while this makes sense, I suspect that this would be hard to prove at this time.”
Climate change has been cited as one of the contributing factors of a year of brutal weather conditions around the globe.
It is common knowledge that hurricanes are powered by warm seas, and over the past 100 years global average sea temperatures have risen by about 1C (33F).
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that as the sea temperatures have risen, so have the intensity of hurricanes.
Hurricane season 2018: A satellite captures the frightening storm systems in 2017
Other factors are at play which can prevent hurricanes forming.
For example, Saharan dust can interfere with hurricane formation, as can the close proximity of storms to the equator.
Ironically, hurricanes hate strong winds that aren’t their own, so if strong Atlantic winds interfere with the circulation of air through a developing storm, it won’t develop into a hurricane.
Another factor is the El Nino phenomenon, associated with warmer and wetter weather.
During the El Nino, the Pacific Ocean near the equator gets warmer than usual, which affects global wind patterns and can lead to stronger winds in the Atlantic, resulting in quieter hurricane seasons.
Hurricane season 2018: This year NOAA forecasted the 2018 hurricane season would be strong
In May, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Centre (CPC) said in a forecast the possibility of a transition to El Niño weather-pattern is nearing 50 percent by the 2018-19 Northern Hemisphere winter.
That means that currently, we’ll be in am El Nino-neutral condition, which could create ideal conditions for hurricanes to form.
Professor Bourassa said: “From an Atlantic perspective, last year was very unusually bad.
“I hope that is not part of a trend.”