A boy rides his bike down a flooded road caused by Hurricane Eta, which has now been demoted to a tropical storm, in Puerto Barrios, Izabal, 310 km north of Guatemala City, on November 5, 2020.
Johan Ordonez | AFP | Getty Images
Hurricane Eta slowly hit Central America this week, flooding homes, collapsing buildings and reportedly killing at least 57 people.
Eta is expected to be redesigned next week and headed for Cuba and Florida. It is the 28th named storm and the 12th hurricane during a brutal Atlantic hurricane season. A record number of storms have damaged parts of the US Gulf Coast, Central America and elsewhere with no signs of slowing down.
In most years, hurricane activity would have long since subsided. But in 2020, with around a month before the official hurricane season, forecasters expect even more storms.
There were so many named storms that year that in September the World Meteorological Organization ran out of alphabet names for hurricanes and started using Greek letters.
With Eta, the 2020 season is now linked to 2005 for most of the named storms. In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma landed on the US Gulf Coast. However, scientists say this year will almost certainly break the 2005 record in the weeks ahead.
"The likelihood that the storm record known as the Atlantic will be broken is relatively high," said Phil Klotzbach, atmospheric researcher at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. "The large-scale atmospheric conditions still appear to be conducive to additional storm development in the Caribbean."
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The major storms that form at the end of the 2020 season are remarkable, and the intensity of Eta is especially rare for a November storm.
The major hurricanes Delta, Epsilon and Eta have all struck since October 1, breaking an earlier record of only two major hurricanes in the Atlantic that occurred in October, according to Klotzbach.
One culprit for such high levels of hurricane activity late in the season is the La Nina event in the tropical Pacific, which reduced vertical wind shear – or the change in wind direction with altitude – which typically hampers hurricane formation.
Clinton and Randal Ream with their son Saylor and daughter Nayvie and their two neighbors Aubrey Miller and Harmony Morgan in their home in a small trailer park in West Pensacola. The area was badly damaged after Hurricane Sally hit Pensacola, La., A Category 2 hurricane on September 16, 2020.
Bryan Tarnowski | The Washington Post via Getty Images
Eta is also the ninth named storm and fifth in a row hurricane to intensify rapidly this year. This phenomenon has doubled proportionally since 1982. Models show that climate change increases the likelihood that storms will intensify rapidly as tropical oceans warm.
"As the speed limit in storms increases, storms accelerate faster to this maximum speed. Imagine a car that starts at a traffic light at a speed of 40 km / h compared to a road with 90 km / h," said Gabriel Vecchi, climate researcher and Princeton co-author of a report on hurricane intensity and global warming.
"Rapidly widening hurricanes can be very dangerous as [rapid intensification] is usually difficult to predict and a seemingly modest storm can become very intense overnight, leaving people with little time to plan and react," Vecchi said.
The US Gulf Coast was hit by storms this year. Hurricane Laura in August destroyed entire homes and killed over a dozen people in Louisiana, followed by Hurricane Delta in early October, which caused more destruction for people who are still trying to recover. Hurricane Zeta also lashed the southern states in late October, causing at least six deaths.
Gulf residents have suffered significant losses and long months of negotiating insurance money to help repair damaged property and businesses.
The damage caused by Laura is estimated at $ 8 to $ 12 billion, Delta between $ 700 and $ 1.2 billion, and Zeta between $ 2.5 and 4 billion, according to real estate data analytics firm CoreLogic.
A boy and a man rescue chairs in front of a flooded house due to the heavy rainfall caused by Hurricane Eta, which is now degraded to a tropical storm, in Puerto Barrios, Izabal, 310 km north of Guatemala City, on November 5, 2020 has been.
Johan Ordonez | AFP | Getty Images
"In one month, this hurricane season has been incredibly devastating," Curtis McDonald, forecaster and senior product manager at CoreLogic, said in a statement.
"Right now, it's important to restore power to the millions of homes in the southeastern states, continue repairing damage to previously affected homes, and prepare for potentially record-breaking November hurricane activity," said McDonald.
Climate change has triggered more frequent and more intense hurricanes, and storms intensified faster. The speed of tropical storms landing has slowed over the past few decades, causing more rain and flooding.
Research also shows that rising temperatures in the Arctic have weakened atmospheric circulation, which likely affected the speed of the hurricane by causing the jet stream to slow down.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had initially predicted an unusually active hurricane season this year, citing warmer sea temperatures, weaker trade winds in the tropical Atlantic, and increased monsoons in West Africa.
Still, the forecasters hadn't expected how terrible things would get.
"There's one month left in the season so we need to stay ready," said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.
"But I know I am not alone when I say that I will be happy when this season is over," he said.