This week, NASA released a grim four-minute timelapse of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, a mesmerizing display of last year’s record-breaking string of tropical commotion.
2020’s season “smashed records with an unprecedented 30 named storms, marking the fifth year in a row with above-average hurricane activity,” NASA said in a blog accompanying the video.
The agency’s Scientific Visualization Studio used a complex algorithm to process and merge hordes of data from an array of weather satellites in orbit, combining it with estimates and observations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center and National Hurricane Center.
The product is a fascinating four-minute and 26-second look at last year’s hurricane activity, unfolding in a colorful display of wispy cyclone formations tumbling across the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
“The bar has been raised,” Brian McNoldy, a senior researcher at the University of Miami’s Marine and Atmospheric Science school, tweeted last week. “When we mention the average number of named storms, hurricanes, & major hurricanes, we’re typically referring to a recent 30-year ‘climate normal’. We’ve been using 1981-2010, but now we have 1991-2020, and the counts have increased by 12-19%.”
The total cost of 2020’s climate events was $95 billion, according to data from NOAA, killing 262 people. There were 13 severe storms, seven tropical cyclones, one drought, and one wildfire event, according to NOAA. Last year’s Atlantic hurricane season was the fifth costliest on record, causing roughly $60 billion in economic damage, according to a report from AccuWeather. The most expensive season on record was in 2017, hitting $306.2 billion in costs.
“Climate normals are updated each decade to keep up with a changing climate,” McNoldy said. “What was normal 50 years ago isn’t normal now.”
The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts each year on June 1st and ends on November 30th, though storms can — and do — occur outside of the official season. June 1st, 2021, is less than 100 days away.