El Nino conditions in the Pacific inhibited tropical storm formation in the Atlantic this year, resulting in a mild hurricane season. Upper elevation winds always flow from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and in El Nino years these winds are stronger than usual. They shear the tops of Atlantic storm systems, disrupting circulation and dissipating energy, so fewer storms form, and the ones that do are not as strong as they would be otherwise.
The remnants of Hurricane Ida caused record storm surges this weekend on the Virginia coast and dropped up to 10 inches of rain on coastal North Carolina. This is a reminder that warming oceans are still imparting considerable energy to storms. Ida began in the southern Gulf of Mexico, traversed the entire gulf, crossed Florida and still had enough power to push nearly six feet of water onto Virginia beaches.
As Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters points out, the combination of coastal subsidence and rising sea level means that today's surges are a foot higher relative to the land than storms in the 1930s that produced similar swells. At the same time climate change is generating more and stronger storms, coastal areas are growing more vulnerable to damage.
Masters also asks his readers to sign a letter to the White House asking for funding to replace a failing weather satellite, QuikSCAT, that has proven invaluable to weather forecasters. I signed it. It just takes a few seconds, please join me.