Does the jet stream affect hurricanes?

Many news and weather articles, including our own blog, have reported recently that the UK’s wet summer is caused by the jet stream being situated further south than usual for this time of year.

However, some have questioned whether there is a link between this and the hurricane activity seen so far in the Atlantic.

So how is the Atlantic hurricane season shaping up and has it been influenced by the weather at higher latitudes?

Atlantic hurricane season so far

The Atlantic hurricane season officially started on 1 June, but in 2012 it began early with two tropical storms, Alberto and Beryl, forming in May.

After a break of almost three weeks there were two more storms, Chris and Debby, in the latter part of June, with Chris becoming the first hurricane of the season.

Since then there has been another lull of almost three weeks in Atlantic tropical storm activity.

Has the Atlantic hurricane season been unusual?

In mid-July it is far too soon to make judgements about how unusual a hurricane season is likely to be based on activity so far. However, it was certainly unusual to see four tropical storms before the end of June as this has never been observed before in over 150 years of records.

The recent quiet spell in Atlantic hurricane activity is by no means unusual. Atlantic hurricane seasons are often characterised by bursts of activity followed by quiet spells.

The peak of activity usually runs from the second half of August through to October. Even in some years which turned out to be very active, early season activity was low.

For example, by this time in 2010 and 2011 there had been just one tropical storm. Each of these seasons ended up yielding a total of 19 storms.

Is the jet stream involved?

The jet stream which affects UK weather is much further north than where the majority of tropical storms develop and hence has no direct impact on their formation.

However, once a tropical storm develops and starts to move to higher latitudes the jet stream can influence where it ends up. For example, in September 2011 as Hurricane Katia moved northwards in the Atlantic it met a powerful part of the jet stream and was swept eastwards as a strong ‘post-tropical’ storm which brought stormy conditions to the northern UK.

Will it be an active hurricane season?

The Met Office seasonal forecast for Atlantic tropical storm activity issued in May predicted a near-average season with the most likely number of storms in the June to November period being 10. Since June two tropical storms have occurred so far (the two May storms fall outside of this prediction period).

One of the major influences on the season’s activity includes the existence of La Niña or El Niño conditions (natural cycles which affect sea temperatures in the equatorial east Pacific).

Having just come out of an extended period of La Niña conditions, forecasts suggests an El Niño could develop before the end of the current hurricane season.

This would suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic by disrupting the airflow over the regions where they usually develop.

However, it is worth remembering that it is 20 years since the quiet El Niño influenced Atlantic hurricane season of 1992. Despite being a quiet season overall, it still managed to spawn the deadly and powerful Hurricane Andrew which brought devastation to parts of Miami in Florida.

For more information on tropical cyclones worldwide visit our web pages or follow @metofficestorms on Twitter.

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