The 2020 hurricane season broke all the records. Is it a sign of what’s to come?
This year’s Atlantic hurricane season sometimes felt like a never-ending onslaught of storms — some even happening at the same time. It was the most active and one of the most devastating seasons ever. The recovery will take years.
With studies continuing to indicate that, among other things, climate change is fueling more intense storms, the messages of this hurricane season are clear: It’s time to stabilize the climate and create a better future for those who face the worsening impacts of extreme weather.
The many ways this season broke records
This season brought 31 tropical or subtropical depressions and 30 named storms — surpassing the previous record of 28 tropical or subtropical depressions and 27 named storms in 2005. That year included such destructive hurricanes as Katrina and Rita.
From Hurricanes Arthur to Iota, storms this year stretched from early May to mid-November, quickly cycling through all the season’s designated storm names before moving nine letters deep into names from the Greek alphabet.
The 2020 season, which officially ended Nov. 30, also had more storms make landfall than ever — 12, five of which hit my home state of Louisiana. In fact, Louisiana was in the cone of uncertainty — or potential path — of eight different storms.
Of the storms that made landfall in Louisiana, Hurricanes Laura and Delta brought back-to-back intense blows of Categories 4 and 2 in August and September, devastating the southwest portion of our state.
Beyond the Gulf, hurricanes slammed into Central America well into November, with Category 4 Eta and Category 5 Iota making landfall within 15 miles of each other just a few weeks apart.
The storms unleashed massive rainfall, causing flooding and mudslides that killed hundreds of people, plus widespread damage across Central America. We will likely see more climate and poverty-based migration as a result.
How climate change intensifies hurricanes — fast
While our hope is that this past season was an extreme outlier, the latest scientific research is indicating that, at a minimum, climate change is fueling more intense hurricanes.
And that is exactly what happened this year with many storms, including Laura, which rapidly intensified into a Category 4 storm before making landfall in southwest Louisiana as the strongest storm to hit that state in more than 150 years. In fact, 10 storms from 2020 experienced rapid intensification, tying the record from 1995.
Rapid intensification poses significant risks to human safety as someone may choose to ride out a weaker storm, but then may not have time to get out when that storm suddenly intensifies.
Warmer ocean temperatures are also causing storms to stay stronger for longer, according to a recent study published in Nature [PDF], driving more severe impacts, such as extreme rainfall, as they move inland to areas far beyond the coast, leading to destructive flooding.
This destructive season shows why we must act
We must keep a spotlight on those who are still recovering from this year’s hurricanes and help them rebuild better before the next storm. (The people of the Gulf Coast still need our help. See how you can support them.)
And the destruction we’ve seen during the 2020 hurricane season must propel us to a safer future for all communities.
Taking action on climate change is a must to limit the impacts of extreme weather, while also making smart investments, such as in natural infrastructure across our coasts and within our floodplains, to provide vital natural buffers between floodwaters and communities.
We can’t stop the storms from coming, but we can limit their increasing severity and better protect our communities before the storms arrive.
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