There hasn’t been a reliable way to accurately predict how many hurricanes will sweep through the Gulf of Mexico — until now.
Louisiana State University researchers’ new hurricane model can help governments better plan for disasters and alleviate the impact of storms like Hurricane Ida, according to a study published in Geophysical Research Letters late last month.
By “analyzing the temperature of the atmosphere several miles above the Earth,” university professors Paul Miller and Jill Trepanier were able to “accurately anticipate” how many storms are likely to come through the Gulf between June and November.
Miller and Trepanier first looked at environmental model records dating back to 2012 for both trends that predicted storms in the Gulf and existing storm indicators used by forecasters in the Atlantic region.
They didn’t spot any unusual trends that predicted storms in the Atlantic but did find “a correlation between the temperature halfway up the troposphere,” which is the “lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere,” and the number of storms there, according to a news release.
The troposphere is located nearly 3.7 miles above the Earth’s surface and “shifts up or down depending on how warm the atmosphere is,” researchers said.
Using data collected between 1979 and 2010, Miller and Trepanier developed a model based on the average temperature of the troposphere above the Gulf to predict how many storms will strike during a typical hurricane season.
The model works better at “predicting heavy storm seasons” than average ones — accurately predicting how many storms passed through the Gulf in 2020, Miller said.
Though climatologists have ways to predict the intensity of hurricane seasons, most models concentrate on the Atlantic basin “as a whole” rather than just the Gulf.
Geographic and climate conditions are different in the Gulf of Mexico, with storms more likely to form earlier in the season there than in the Atlantic.
“The Gulf of Mexico is a very active sub-basin of the Atlantic,” Miller said in a news release. “Last year Louisiana alone hosted five named storms.”
Solely predicting storms in the Gulf is better for two reasons, according to the study. The first being that storm systems originate in the Gulf and “rapidly intensify” from August to October. Secondly, since the Gulf is entirely enclosed, hurricanes will have some land impact.
“In essence, they (Miller and Trepanier) created a fairly simple metric to try to predict Gulf of Mexico hurricanes,” said Corene Matyas, a geography professor at the University of Florida who was not involved in the study, in a news release. “Most models just try to predict Atlantic storm systems as a whole.
“It highlights the need to look at a sub region of the whole Atlantic basin because conditions could be different in that region.”