July 1, 2022

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How the Gulf of Mexico’s Loop Current may make storms more intense this hurricane season

3 min read

As the Gulf Coast gears up for the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which starts June 1, forecasters are keeping a sharp eye on what’s called the Loop Current in the southern Gulf of Mexico. 

The current is formed as warm water flows up from the Caribbean Sea into the Northern Atlantic Ocean around the Greater Antilles. In some cases, the current forms a channel deep into the Gulf that can break off into a large, circulating area of warm water as the original current restructures—similar to how bubbles are blown. Except instead of air, this spinning bubble (called an eddy) is filled with warm water that can make hurricanes more dangerous, according to Nick Shay, professor of oceanography at the University of Miami. 

This is an example of a Loop Current and potential eddy. 

This is an example of a Loop Current and potential eddy. 

NOAA

Shay said forecasters are worried that present conditions in the Gulf could lead to an eddy early this season, similar to one seen in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina formed. As tropical depressions or storms move into the Gulf of Mexico, their chances to form into a hurricane rise as they move over warm waters, like those predicted this season. 

“I have been monitoring ocean heat content for more than 30 years as a marine scientist,” Shay wrote in The Conversation. “The conditions I’m seeing in the Gulf in May 2022 are cause for concern … The Loop Current has the potential to supercharge some of those storms.”

Here’s what the warm waters in the Gulf looked like Wednesday: 

Surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico for Wednesday, May 18, 2022. The Loop Current is visible in the eastern portion of the Gulf. 

Surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico for Wednesday, May 18, 2022. The Loop Current is visible in the eastern portion of the Gulf. 

NOAA

Shay pointed to a Colorado State University forecast that predicts an above-average 19 storms this season. AccuWeather predicts even more.

AccuWeather forecasters in their predictions also noted a period of La Niña in the Pacific Ocean, characterized by cooler waters there, that will additionally help storms develop in the Atlantic Ocean. The weather phenomenon decreases winds in the Atlantic, which makes atmospheric conditions more conducive to a storm’s formation. That, coupled with the already warmer-than-average waters in the Gulf of Mexico, is why they predicted 20 storms by the end of the season. 


“Sea-surface temperatures are above normal over much of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean and even off the East Coast of the United States, especially the southeast coast of the United States,” said Dan Kottlowski, head of AccuWeather’s team of tropical weather forecasters, in a press release detailing their findings. “These are critical areas for early season development.”

Shay pointed out that this year’s warm waters look “remarkably similar” to the waters in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina formed. 

“Of the 27 named storms that year, seven became major hurricanes,” Shay said. “Wilma and Rita also crossed the Loop Current that year and became two of the most intense Atlantic hurricanes on record.”

This map shows sea surface temperatures in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Louisiana coast. 

This map shows sea surface temperatures in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Louisiana coast. 

NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service, will release its predictions Tuesday. 



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