Experts say exceptional ocean heat is fueling a hyperactive hurricane season

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Horseshoe Beach, Florida, home destroyed by Hurricane Idalia.


The Atlantic hurricane season typically reaches its peak this week, but record warm ocean temperatures are fueling a hyperactive season that experts say shows no signs of slowing down.

The average hurricane season begins on June 1 and lasts until November 30, but its statistical peak occurs on September 10. So far this year, hurricane activity has been above average across the board, according to Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist in the atmospheric division. Science at Colorado State University.

“It’s been a very busy season,” Klotzbach told CNN. “It’s not a huge blow, but it looks like the season will be rated as above normal.”

Watch this interactive content on

  • Fourteen named storms have roamed the Atlantic—the average for an entire season
  • Five of those storms were hurricanes. The average at this time of year is 3.5 tornadoes.
  • There were three major hurricanes, which is nearly double the average for this time of year. The third major hurricane usually does not form until October 28 in the average season.
  • Two named storms made landfall in the United States. Tropical Storm Harold made landfall on August 22 in south Texas. Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall on August 30, was the strongest in Florida’s Big Bend region in more than 125 years.
  • Hurricane Lee rapidly intensified at the third fastest rate on record in the Atlantic Ocean and became a Category 5 monster. Only 39 other storms have reached Category 5 in the Atlantic.

Some fast facts about the hurricanes of 2023 so far:

Before it began, forecasters were predicting an average season, but warned of greater uncertainty than usual due to the climate battle between a burgeoning El Niño and warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures. El Niño tends to produce more wind shear — upper-level winds that can tear apart storms — but warm water can fuel its growth.

Then, as the season began, ocean warmth rose to record levels and forecasters warned of explosive tropical development and a more active season, which paid off.

NOAA’s hurricane season outlook was updated in early August to capture growing confidence in a more active than usual season.

“We saw how hot the Atlantic was and said, ‘OK, we’ve got to move on,'” said Klotzbach, whose research group makes seasonal hurricane forecasts.

“Fortunately, we have a strong El Niño,” Klotzbach said, because if there was no El Niño, the season “would probably be 200 percent of normal instead of 130 percent of normal.”

But Klotzbach said that El Niño, which is considered strong by all standards, is not affecting the western Atlantic as it normally does.

“Because the Atlantic is so warm, you won’t get as much as you normally would,” Klotzbach told CNN. “The whole basin is hot. If you compare that to 2005 or 2010, other big years in the Atlantic where it was really warm, we’re in a completely different ballgame this year.”

maximum Ocean heat and reduced wind shear have some big impacts on the season, Klotzbach said. More storms could form than would occur in a typical El Niño year. Even storms weakened by moderate shear—such as hurricanes Franklin and Lee—were able to survive and regain strength once more favorable conditions became available.

“If we leave the storm there long enough, it will eventually find a place where the shear is not as strong” and could strengthen, Klotzbach said.

More frequent rapid intensification and major hurricanes are also byproducts of the season’s ripe conditions. The Idalia, Franklin and Lee condensed rapidly in water that was well above normal.

“Warm water isn’t the only thing you need, but it’s kind of loading the dice toward these rapid condensation events,” Klotzbach said. “If you look at the water that Lee was tracking, it should have been 28 degrees Celsius instead of 30 (degrees Celsius) — it’s like rocket fuel.”

The season isn’t over yet — 90% of hurricane season activity occurs from mid-August through mid-October — and Klotzbach said the next two weeks still look like they could produce more storms.

After that point, Klotzbach said, it’s anyone’s guess, but the Atlantic Barrel Chest has already proven to be full of surprises this season.

“Ultimately, we learned that even under a strong El Niño, if the Atlantic gets enough warmth, it can survive,” Klotzbach said.

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