Hurricane forecasts for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season so far point to an above average year of activity ahead, with the early forecasts suggesting meteorological similarities with some particularly active historical seasons.
The insurance, reinsurance and insurance-linked securities (ILS) market always watches the tropics with trepidation, given the potential for significant catastrophe losses should any Atlantic hurricane approach the United States shoreline.
But in 2020 this trepidation may be heightened somewhat, as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is seen as a potential complication for the insurance and reinsurance market should a major event occur while the crisis persists.
With the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season set to begin from June 1st, all thoughts are on tropical activity at this time of year.
The early forecasts suggest an above average level of activity, with higher than normal numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes predicted at this time.
Of course forecasts can change and tropical conditions can adjust in the space of a few months, but right now with already very warm sea surface temperatures in some regions and conditions aligning like they did in some particularly active hurricane years, there is an expectation that 2020 could see significant activity in the tropical Atlantic.
As we have done for more than two decades, we’ve launched our dedicated page for the 2020 Atlantic tropical storm and hurricane season, where you can see details on storms as they form, tracking maps and also a collection of forecasts, as well as our Artemis average.
The early forecasts suggest high levels of activity, so far.
The first forecast out of the blocks was issued in December by insurance and reinsurance market supported Tropical Storm Risk (TSR). The team there predicted a close to average season, with 15 tropical storms, 7 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes.
TSR will put out a new forecast in the coming weeks and we suspect there’s a chance it could rise slightly, given how much higher some of the others are right now.
Weatherbell, a forecaster we’ve always followed, was next and ominously said that there are “similarities to some notable hyperactive seasons” in 2020.
“A warm Atlantic Basin is already in place and no El Niño is expected,” the forecaster explained, saying that its first outlook is for a “big season.”
“For the current year, a higher number of storms and ACE is supported by very warm Atlantic and Gulf SSTs and the fact that many storms we could not see years ago are now seen and named with improved satellite instrumentation. In addition, very warm water near the coasts ups the ante for rapid feedback development,” Weatherbell said.
Warm coastal waters are always a concern in the reinsurance and ILS community, as it means even weaker tropical storms can intensify rapidly on close approach to the United States.
Overall Weatherbell calls for 14 – 20 tropical storms to form in the 2020 season, with between 7 – 11 becoming hurricanes, and 3 – 6 becoming major hurricanes.
Currently, Weatherbell calls for between 2 – 3 landfalling hurricanes and 1 or 2 of them being major hurricanes of Category 3 or greater.
Weatherbell notes the uncertainty in early forecasts though, saying, “The danger of making a forecast off of a forecast is there, along with the possibility of a year where next to nothing happens despite great similarities to the hyperactive years. For now, we have high totals because of the similarities to the hyperactive years. In April we will start weighting these years, some stronger than others, to get a clearer picture.”
However, “With the warm Atlantic Basin SSTs already in place, no El Niño, and an upward motion forecast that looks like a favorable MJO pattern for the hurricane season, this first “vision” of 2020 is for a big season. We can have big seasons like 2010, where next to nothing hit land, but chances are staying in the middle like we are doing would serve us well.”
Accuweather was next with a forecast, calling for a “busy year for the Atlantic Basin in 2020, on the heels of an active 2019 season.”
The Accuweather forecast team calls for between 14 – 18 tropical storms to form in the upcoming 2020 hurricane season, 7 – 9 of which are forecast to become hurricanes, and 2 – 4 predicted to strengthen into major hurricanes.
“It’s going to be an above-normal season,” Dan Kottlowksi, AccuWeather’s lead forecaster said. “On a normal year, we have around 12 storms, six hurricanes and roughly three major hurricanes.”
Accuweather too makes comparisons to suggest we’re in for a “hyperactive year” in the 2020 Atlantic storm season, likening the forecast to the years of 1980 and 2005.
Of course 2005 is a year that the reinsurance and ILS community remember well, having been the year of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.
“There are a number of analog years we looked at that certainly show high-impact storms affecting the United States,” Kottlowski said.
However he noted these could be direct hits, or storms that scraped the coastline.
Accuweather note the warmth in sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean, where temperatures already reached 80 degrees in March.
“Warm water is actually what drives a lot of seasons,” Kottlowski said. “So those will be areas to keep an eye on for early-season development.”
The most recent forecast is from the Colorado State University team led by Phil Klotzbach.
The forecasters explained, “We anticipate that the 2020 Atlantic basin hurricane season will have above-normal activity.
“Current warm neutral ENSO conditions appear likely to transition to cool neutral ENSO or potentially even weak La Niña conditions by this summer/fall.
“Sea surface temperatures averaged across the tropical Atlantic are somewhat above normal. Our Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation index is below its long-term average; however, most of the tropical Atlantic is warmer than normal. We anticipate an above-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean.”
The Colorado State forecasting team calls for 16 named tropical storms to form during the 2020 season, with 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes.
This forecast team also gives landfall probabilities, suggesting a 69% chance of a landfalling major hurricane on the U.S. coastline, well above the average of 52%.
For the east coast and Florida they give a 45% chance of a major hurricane making landfall in the 2020 season, well up on the 31% long-term average again.
For the Gulf Coast the probability of major hurricane landfall is 44% in 2020, again above the average of 30%.
There’s also a 58% probability given for a major hurricane to track into the Caribbean, up on the average of 42%.
So, four forecasts so far, three of which call for above average activity and one for average (but this is likely to be upgraded we feel).
Across the four forecasters that we have data from so far, our Artemis average forecast for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is already showing 16 named tropical storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes, with an average accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) forecast of 142.
This is all a decent notch above the long-term average, in every case.
However, it is worth noting that the average of the last decade has been creeping up as it rolls forwards, making this new 2020 forecast just a little higher than the recent historical average number of tropical storms and hurricanes.
But, as ever, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season comes down to landfalls, as major hurricanes spinning far out to sea are no threat to lives, livelihoods or the reinsurance, ILS and catastrophe bond markets.
But an above average forecast does suggest an above average chance of impact, so the market will need to watch closely as the season approaches and forecasts are updated.
Track the 2020 Atlantic tropical storm and hurricane season on our dedicated page and we’ll update you as new information emerges.