The Atlantic Hurricane season commenced on June 1st this week, with the NOAA predicting a 60% chance of an above-normal season between now and November 30th.
But should surfers be gleefully rubbing their hands in anticipation of summer swell?
If you started surfing since the mid 1990’s, increased hurricane activity has in fact been your summer norm. While the ‘above average’ description given by NOAA refers to the number of named storms (the historic average being 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes), to more accurately assess how bad a storm is, meteorologists use the Accumulated Cyclone Energy Index – or ACE – to account for the strength, frequency and duration of storms per year.
The Atlantic Ocean is in the midst of its most intense period of increased hurricane activity on record, with significant increases in ACE the 21st century.
Globally though, the total number of tropical cyclones (also known as hurricanes and typhoons) has remained relatively consistent, around 90 per year, throughout our more recent period of planetary heating of both ocean and atmosphere.
Is ‘Hurricane Swell’ a Myth (in Western Europe)?
This really depends where you live. While genuine hurricane swell, and swell from extra tropical storms can be surfed in most of Atlantic Europe, realistically, it’s places like the south and west coasts of Macaronesia (Azores, Canaries, Madeira) that benefit much more noticeably, for obvious reasons.
Whilst named storms from the Caribbean/ tropical Atlantic can track north east and send Europe decent swell with high pressure conditions, that’s more likely to be the exception rather than the rule, and you’re probably simply more likely to remember surfing a (former) ‘hurricane swell’ than any other out of season mid-Atlantic swell of the same intensity and quality.
The counter argument to balmy, hot summer seasons of endless bar-b-q’s punctuated by delicious, dartboard lows are UK summers that weren’t, like 1997 or 2002.
Both were largely a miserable procession of blustery, rain bearing fronts, often with NW winds and daily highs in the teens. When the jet stream gets kinked into tracking stubbornly south, British summer turns more into scenes of washed out Wimbledon, lifeguards shivering tracky bottoms squinting through windscreen wipers across empty, brown sands.
And yet perversely, those not so classic summers can see surfers in places like the south coast basically surfing every day of summer, almost unheard of.
“Quantity”, as Stalin observed, ‘Has a quality all its own.”
Nature Sending Invoices
Sadly, the argument about whether man-induced climate change was real was only really accepted as ‘won’ when hedge fund managers started to think so, and profiteer appropriately.
And as we are all too aware these days, it’s people who live in the Majority World (what used to be termed the ‘developing world’) who are the most accurately vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased storm activity and intensity.
Surfers in places like the Caribbean have been dealing with this kind of moral conundrum for decades; hoping for hurricane swell, but without the destruction of landfall.
With some of the wettest and stormiest winter months being followed by the sunniest spring on record in the UK this year, and Storm Cristobal bringing significant destruction to El Salvador already this hurricane season, never before have we been more aware of global drivers behind local weather.
Realistically, while each of us has significant roles to play in countering the causes and effects of climate collapse, suppressing stoke from surfing swells from storms routinely being associated with it, probably isn’t among them.