A nationally known meteorologist says predicting this year’s hurricane season is increasingly difficult because record ocean temperatures might throw off the computer models used to predict storms.
The planet is on fire and Brian McNoldy says there is no relief in sight from the relentless heat sweeping the nation — or the Miami area, where there has been an unprecedented stretch of days with a feels-like temperature over 100 degrees.
McNoldy is a senior research associate at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Sciences at the University of Miami and was this week’s guest on the Anti-Social Podcast. Listen below or subscribe and never miss an episode
“I’d say there’s very low confidence in seasonal forecasts this year,” said McNoldy – who was named “Best Meteorologist” by Miami New Times in 2022.
There are two opposing forces when it comes to hurricane development this season, he said.
There is a developing El Niño, a climate pattern resulting from unusual warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño increases wind shear, air patterns that inhibit hurricanes, McNoldy said.
What hurricanes do like is warm water. And the ocean temperatures are off the chart whether it be in the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico.
But the temperatures are so extreme, there is less confidence in the major predictive hurricane computer models, because they have never been confronted with the environmental factors now being seen.
“That combination is really rare. So we don’t have a lot of history to learn from this year,” McNoldy said.
At home, most people draw a bath temperature at 98 degrees. Biscayne Bay right now is peaking in the afternoon at 91 or 92 degrees.
The Earth’s ocean surface temperature anomaly was the highest ever recorded last month, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
“These past three days have all had record-breaking ocean water temperatures,” he said. “We’re not talking about air temperatures – which have also been, of course, record breaking around the region.”
The planet’s total surface temperature – land and sea – was the highest ever recorded in June in a 174-year global climate record at 1.89 degrees above average.
States are reporting heat-related deaths – there were 10 in Laredo, Texas between June 15 and July 3.
“There’s never been anything like this,” he said.
McNoldy said climate change is a factor but it is not the only one.
“I would say it’s certainly a slice of everything that’s going on, but it’s always acting in the background,” he said.
So over time, as there are heat waves and cold spells, there is an upward trend in global temperatures, which “makes these marine heat waves and land heat waves more likely.”
Though not a marine biologist, McNoldy knows the heat anomaly this summer spells doom for coral reefs.
“It is an extremely bad situation from everything I’ve heard about this. A lot of coral can’t survive water temperature like what is happening in the Keys,” he said. “A lot of marine life is really going to struggle with this.”
If there is a bright spot, McNoldy said, it is the young in-training scientists at UM. Some of them are hard at work growing coral that is more heat resistant to replenished bleached out reefs.
“It’s really bringing like a new spark of life,” McNoldy said of Gen Z. “In our generation, we’re kind of getting a little dismayed.”