Hurricane season in the Atlantic brings a host of dramatic and dangerous weather, from whipping winds, torrential downpours, power outages and flash floods. And as climate change has been tied to an increase in hurricane intensity, these impacts could continue to worsen.
But when exactly does the Atlantic hurricane season of 2022 start, and how long does it last? And how do hurricanes form? What can people do to prepare in the face of the most dangerous storms on Earth? From hurricane formation science to naming conventions to storm safety tips, this Live Science guide will run down all you need to know about this year’s hurricane season. The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season is predicted to bring higher-than-average activity, meaning more ferocious storms.
Even though the National Hurricane Center has forecast an above-average hurricane season for 2022, the first and, to date, only named storm of the year, Tropical Storm Alex, emerged five days after the season started on June 1.
Hurricanes are tropical cyclones. When a tropical cyclone’s sustained winds reach 39 to 73 mph (63 to 118 km/h), it is considered a tropical storm and it gets a name from a list put out by the World Meteorological Organization. Once those sustained winds reach 74 to 95 mph (119 to 153 km/h), that storm becomes a Category 1 hurricane. According to the Saffir-Simpson scale, here are the sustained winds linked to categories 2 through 5 hurricanes:
Category 2: 96 to 110 mph (154 to 177 km/h)
Category 3: 111 to 129 mph (178 to 208 km/h)
Category 4: 130 to 156 mph (209 to 251 km/h)
Category 5: 157 mph or higher (252 km/h or higher)
NAMED STORMS OF 2022
Tropical Storm Alex: June 5, north of the Abaco Islands, in the northern Bahamas
HOW DO HURRICANES FORM?
Hurricanes are the most violent storms on Earth, according to NASA. At heart, hurricanes are fueled by just two ingredients: heat and water. Hurricanes are seeded over the warm waters above the equator, where the air above the ocean’s surface takes in heat and moisture. As the hot air rises, it leaves a lower pressure region below it. This process repeats as air from higher pressure areas moves into the lower pressure area, heats up, and rises, in turn, producing swirls in the air, according to NASA(opens in new tab). Once this hot air gets high enough into the atmosphere, it cools off and condenses into clouds. Now, the growing, swirling vortex of air and clouds grows and grows and can become a thunderstorm.
So, the first condition needed for hurricanes is warmer waters in the Atlantic Ocean, which cause a number of other conditions favorable to hurricanes.
“When the waters are warmer, it tends to mean you have lower pressures. It means a more unstable atmosphere, which is conducive to hurricanes intensifying,” said Phil Klotzbach, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University. “These thunderstorms, which are the building blocks of hurricanes, are better able to organize and get going.”
Another key factor: wind shear, or the change in wind direction with height into the atmosphere, Klotzbach said. “When you have a warm tropical Atlantic, you have reduced levels of wind shear,” Klotzbach told Live Science. “When you have a lot of wind shear it basically tears apart the hurricane.”
(Storms that form on different sides of the equator have different spin orientations, thanks to Earth’s slight tilt on its axis, according to NASA.)