Across much of the Atlantic Ocean, from Cuba to Texas and from Florida to Newfoundland, hurricanes and tropical storms have flooded streets, cut electricity and caused severe damage to cities this year.
In the Northeast Pacific, storms have also come to life: so far this year there have been 16 named storms, including six hurricanes, with more than a month remaining in the season.
The latest is Pamela, who made landfall on the Mexican mainland Wednesday like a hurricane.
The Pacific hurricane season begins on May 15 and, like the Atlantic season, which begins on June 1, it continues until November 30. But due to geography and winds, among other factors, hurricanes in the Pacific tend to attract less attention than their Atlantic counterparts, although they can still bring dangerous conditions to cities and ships. .
How do the seasons compare?
Due to weather conditions, when the hurricane season in one ocean is stronger, it usually means the other will have a weaker season, said Dr. Nan Walker, professor of coastal studies at Louisiana State University.
This means that this year the northeast Pacific could continue to have a slightly weaker season than the Atlantic, which in late September had formed 20 tropical cyclones – circular storms that form over warm waters with very low atmospheric pressure in the center, and winds above 74 miles per hour.
On average, there are typically 15 named storms in the Pacific each season. In the Atlantic, there are 14. (Last year there was a record 30 named storms in the Atlantic, according to the National Hurricane Center.)
Yet while the Atlantic has produced more storms than the Pacific this season, tropical cyclones that form in both oceans “pose an identical threat to sailors and land areas,” said Dennis Feltgen, meteorologist at NHC at Miami.
Pacific storms rarely hit dry land.
The majority of storm systems in both oceans move east to west, experts said. In the Atlantic, this means that many storms will most likely affect the Caribbean, Mexico, and the eastern and southern coasts of the United States. In the Pacific, however, that means “very few have an impact on land,” Feltgen said.
“They don’t really pose a threat to the west coast of the United States,” said Dr. Haiyan Jiang, professor of meteorology at Florida International University in Miami.
In fact, said Dr. Paul Miller, professor of coastal meteorology at Louisiana State University, the wind “usually carries them from North America to the ocean.”
Since storms mainly move over the vast expanses of open water in the Pacific, they often gain strength because there is no land mass to weaken their energy, experts said.
Dr Richard Olson, director of extreme events research at Florida International University, said if a storm is strong enough in the Pacific, it could attract attention. But because the United States is mostly spared from these storms, it does not receive the same concern as those in the Atlantic, he added.
But storms sometimes reach western Mexico and the west coast.
Storms sometimes make landfall in western Mexico, and their remnants typically bring precipitation to its northeastern regions, as well as Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, climatologist at Texas A&M University.
“It basically increases the amount of rain that is produced because there is so much moisture in the air from these storms,” he said.
Although most storms move westward, deeper into the Pacific, some turn, like a boomerang, toward Mexico, said Dr Hugh Willoughby, a professor at Florida International University who studies hurricane movement. .
When a storm returns, it often loses strength due to contact with the colder waters of the Baja California Peninsula or the California coast.
“If you’ve ever swam in San Diego, you know how cold the water is,” said Dr. Willoughby. “It’s hurricane poison.”
The last time a hurricane hit California, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was Hurricane San Diego of 1858, which brought in winds of around 75 miles per hour. The Herald Tribune reported the day after the storm that “the entire skies seemed to close in patches of dark, heavy and ominous clouds, fleeting enough near the ground, before the growing storm”.
In 2015, Hurricane Patricia, whose winds reached a Category 4 speed of 150 mph, broke the record for the strongest storm on record in the northeastern Pacific and North Atlantic basins, according to the center of hurricanes.
Climate change means that we can expect storms to “be more intense”.
Researchers have suggested that climate change is causing some storms to intensify more quickly. This includes storms in the Pacific, said Dr Willoughby.
“There is every reason to expect them to be more intense,” he said.
Dr Nielsen-Gammon said he had not seen an increase in the total number of storms, but had followed an increase in the total number of severe storms.
A warming planet could expect stronger hurricanes over time and more of the more powerful storms, although the total number of storms could drop as factors such as stronger windshear could prevent the formation of weaker storms.
Hurricanes also get wetter because there is more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere, and rising sea levels also contribute to increased storm surges, the most important element. destroyer of tropical cyclones.
How did the 2021 Pacific season go?
This season has been average in terms of the number of storms and their intensity, experts say.
But some storms still caused damage and death in some communities in western Mexico.
In August, Tropical Storm Nora unleashed a torrent of rain and flash floods on the west coast of Mexico, and she was blamed for the death of a boy whose body was found after the collapse in part of a hotel in Puerto Vallarta, according to the governor of Jalisco. State.
His remains caused heavy rains in Arizona, Colorado and Utah, meteorologists say.
The storm called Pamela approached the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula as a hurricane on Tuesday night, according to the NHC. continent, according to experts.
What about storms in the central and western Pacific?
The western Pacific storm season – which affects many regions, such as the Philippines, Japan, and China – is mostly year round as water temperatures are always warm enough to withstand tropical cyclones, a said Dr Nielsen-Gammon. There, tropical cyclones are called typhoons, a designation that depends on location.
Storms rarely form in the central Pacific, but when they do occur Hawaii is often the only area affected, Dr Jiang said. In 1992, for example, Hurricane Iniki hit the state as a Category 4 storm, killing at least six people and destroying more than 1,400 homes. Most recently, Tropical Storm Olivia made landfall in 2018.
Many other storms that form “just flap around in the middle of the ocean,” said Dr Walker.