Disasters & Accidents

Gulf of Mexico: A feared incubator of destructive storms in 2022

By Emilio J. Lopez

Miami, Jun 1 (EFE).- The fear that the Gulf of Mexico will be an incubator of numerous destructive storms in the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which kicked off on Wednesday and runs through Nov. 30, is top of mind for meteorologists.

Between 14 and 21 named storms – packing winds of 63 kilometers per hour (39 miles per hour) or higher – are expected this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service.

If that forecast proves accurate, it will mark the seventh consecutive above-average hurricane season (14 or more named storms).

And of the expected named storms, between six and 10 are predicted to strengthen into hurricanes and between three and six into major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher (winds of 111 mph or higher).

Warnings of yet another destructive season stem from the fear that warm Gulf waters will act as an incubator of fierce hurricanes or serve to fuel storms that originate in the eastern tropical Atlantic and are driven westward by trade winds.

The water temperature of the Gulf of Mexico is crucial in terms of hurricanes and tropical storms, since they get the fuel they need – warm water vapor – from the surface of the ocean, Anthony Reynes, a meteorologist at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC), told Efe.

The Gulf of Mexico poses different challenges. In the early part of the hurricane season, the main risk comes from the winds that blow near the surface of its waters from the south or southwest.

That means that any tropical storm that forms in June or July near Central America may turn toward the north-northeast and head toward some point on the United States’ Gulf coast.

He also expressed concern that the average water temperature in the Gulf has already reached and surpassed 74 F (23.3 C), saying that temperature turns it into a breeding ground for tropical storms and hurricanes, as occurred with Katrina (2005), Harvey (2017) and Ida (2021).

Experts now are warning that the remnants of Agatha – the most powerful hurricane to make landfall in May along Mexico’s Pacific coast, where it has left at least 10 dead and 20 missing – will strengthen once again in Gulf waters and head toward Cuba and later Florida.

Yet another cause for concern is the presence once again this year in the Pacific Ocean of a La Niña system, which bolsters storm activity in the Atlantic Basin.

Hugh Willoughby, a research professor at Florida International University’s Department of Earth and Environment, told Efe Wednesday that La Niña’s presence is causing increasingly severe storms.

He also echoed Reynes’ assessment that the warm Gulf waters are bad news and said an above-average Atlantic hurricane season will likely occur once again absent a significant change in the La Niña pattern.

Reynes, however, said that if a giant Sahara dust cloud forms and moves across the Atlantic it could help suppress tropical storms and hurricanes by reducing the available humidity in the atmosphere and depriving them of their necessary fuel: water vapor. EFE


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