Climate Change, La Niña Slated to Drive Record-Breaking 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Statement by Astrid Caldas, Senior Climate Scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Published May 23, 2024

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WASHINGTON—The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its 2024 Atlantic hurricane outlook today, which predicts an 85% chance of an above normal and possibly record-breaking season. The outlook forecasts 17 to 25 named storms of which eight to 13 could become hurricanes, with four to seven major hurricanes expected. Scientists also raised the alarm that record-warm sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic coupled with a 77% likelihood of La Niña conditions developing between August and October could lead to storms that rapidly intensify as they approach land and bring excessive rain upon landfall—an increasingly common phenomenon for which government officials, local emergency planners and residents must prepare.

In addition to storms, coastal communities may see a significant number of tidal flooding events, a trend that is expected to worsen if policymakers fail to rein in heat-trapping emissions and address the climate crisis. According to a peer-reviewed analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), in the decades ahead as many as 360 coastal communities could face chronic inundation due to sea level rise primarily driven by climate change. Likewise, as many as 311,000 coastal homes with a collective market value of about $117.5 billion as of 2018 could be at risk of chronic flooding by midcentury.

Below is a statement by Dr. Astrid Caldas, a senior climate scientist for community resilience at UCS.

“As a climate scientist that tracks hurricane activity, I recognize that the fun-filled summer season has increasingly become a time of dread for the dangers that await. The people and places that have found themselves in the path of a tropical storm can attest to its utter and enduring devastation, which often hits communities of color and low-income communities the hardest.

“U.S. coastal communities are tired of crossing their fingers and hoping these storms of epic, record-breaking proportions veer away from their homes, dissipate, or spin out over the Atlantic. It’s imperative that local, state, and federal policymakers and emergency planners help keep communities safe by prioritizing investments to get homes, businesses, and infrastructure in frontline communities climate-ready and be prepared to ensure a quick and just recovery should disaster strike. Reining in heat-trapping emissions driving the climate crisis is also essential.”

Dr. Caldas and other UCS experts are available to speak about the following topics related to the 2024 hurricane season:

  • How climate change is impacting hurricane activity and rising sea levels.

  • How hurricanes exacerbate existing racial and socioeconomic inequities, and compound public health disparities.

  • The risks a specific storm event may pose to electric grid infrastructure and nuclear power plants in its path.

  • The role fossil fuel companies have played in exacerbating climate change events.

  • How investments to help communities prepare before disasters strike can help limit future economic damages and prevent loss of life.

  • The role that the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development play in disaster response and recovery.

  • Ways the insurance market is being affected by climate change and the implications for at-risk communities.

Additional Resources and Analyses:

  • A newly launched UCS online map, which tracks the places at risk of extreme heat, wildfires, storms, poor air quality and flooding during the 2024 Danger Season.

  • UCS blogposts from this and previous Danger Seasons.

  • A 2020 UCS report titled “A Toxic Relationship: Extreme Coastal Flooding and Superfund Sites,” which found hundreds of hazardous sites were at risk of flooding in the coming decades due to sea level rise and hurricanes.

  • A 2015 UCS report titled “Lights Out? Storm Surge, Blackouts, and How Clean Energy Can Help,” which examined the risks storm surge and coastal flooding pose to power plants, substations, and other electricity infrastructure along the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts.

  • Peer-reviewed research by UCS that shows how much global sea surface temperatures, sea level rise, and ocean acidification can be traced to emissions from the products of ExxonMobil and other major fossil fuel companies. 

  • A UCS fact sheet on the science connecting extreme weather events, like hurricanes, to climate change.