Met-11 Airmass RGB, 26 Oct 2020

End of a busy 2020 Atlantic hurricane season

1 June-30 November 2020

Met-11 Airmass RGB, 26 Oct 2020
Met-11 Airmass RGB, 26 Oct 2020

The 2020 North Atlantic hurricane season was record-breaking, with 30 named tropical storms. For only the second time in history, the Greek alphabet had to be used to name the final storms.

Last Updated

07, January 2021

By Ivan Smiljanic (CGI) and Jochen Kerkmann (EUMETSAT)

The North Atlantic hurricane season officially lasts from 1 June to 30 November, with May being the least active month and September being the most active. In 2020 there were so many tropical storms that the National Hurricane Center, which names them, ran out of letters and had to start using the Greek alphabet. Of the 30 nine were named using the Greek alphabet, beating the previous record from 2005.

Out of the 30 named storms 13 developed into hurricanes, and six further intensified into major hurricanes, with one, Hurricane Iota, attaining Category 5. Twenty-seven established a new record for the earliest formation by storm number. Twelve storms made landfall in the contiguous United States, breaking the record of nine set in 1916.

Fueled up additionally by the La Nina phase (reduced wind shear), weaker easterly trade winds (reduced upwelling) and monsoon in northwest Africa (production of atmospheric waves), the season was also the fifth consecutive season in which at least one Category 5 hurricane formed. The season was also the only one with two major hurricanes in November.

Rapid intensification was observed in 10 tropical cyclones in 2020 season, tying that to season 1995. And in many instances intensification was very rapid (e.g. hurricane Eta with wind speed increase of 130 km/h in only one day). Rapid intensification, together with stalling in forward motion of systems, is trend that was observed in recent hurricane seasons. Both effects contribute negatively to storm prediction and mitigation actions.

Perhaps also unique to this hurricane season is the joint view on six storms in one full-disc satellite view on 14 September 2020.

GOES-16 Cloud Type RGB
Figure 1: GOES-16 ABI Cloud Type RGB on 14 September 2020, 18:00 UTC. Full disc view from only one satellite imager revealing 6 different tropical storms in various locations and stages of development.

The last four storms of the season were Zeta, Eta, Theta and Iota. Zeta, Eta and Iota stayed in the western part of the basin, while Theta formed in cooler waters further North and moved East over the Azores, see Theta case study.

Hurricane Iota was the 30th and final named storm of the Atlantic Hurricane season. This was the second major hurricane to form in November, following Storm Eta. The storm formed over relatively warm waters which enabled the storm's intensification as it moved west, see Iota case study.

Hurricane Zeta was relatively weak system that passed the Gulf of Mexico with not much intensification prior to landfall. Figure 2 shows the topography of high reaching clouds of Central Cold Cover feature (CCC), indicating in fact a weak development of this storm.

 High reaching central clouds of the Zeta hurricane seen through 500 m resolution of GOES-16 ABI VIS0.64 channel
Figure 2: High reaching central clouds of the Zeta hurricane seen through 500 m resolution of GOES-16 ABI VIS0.64 channel

At the same time, Hurricane Epsilon moved northwards and entered the polar jet stream region. Curved band pattern in Figure 3, looking like and artist's impression of a big ocean wave, is seen through the Airmass RGB imagery. Compared are GOES-16 and Meteosat-11 views at the moment when the center of the system was just half way between two satellites (longitude-wise, at 37.6 deg West).

Image comparison

Meteosat-11 image compare1

Figure 3: Comparison between GOES-16 and Meteosat-11 views on the Hurricane Epsilon, positioned roughly half-way between two satellites (longitude-wise) on 26 October 03:00 UTC.

The Meteosat-11 Airmass RGB animation in Figure 4 shows very fast advection of the system eastwards in main zonal stream, with limited relative rotation around the centre of the system. It subsequently disintegrated from its original spiral shape (with the introduction of cold and dry Arctic air from the back side of the storm), ending post-tropical transition.

Figure 4: Meteosat-11 views on the Hurricane Epsilon ending its extra-tropical transition, 26 October 00:00–09:00 UTC