Eyes on US Gulf chem production as Atlantic hurricane season could be busiest on record

Adam Yanelli


HOUSTON (ICIS)–There is likely to be increased focus on US Gulf petchem production this summer as the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting the greatest number of hurricanes in the agency’s history.

NOAA forecasters with the Climate Prediction Center said on Thursday that the hurricane season, which starts on 1 June and runs through 30 November, has an 85% chance to be above-normal, a 10% chance of being near-normal, and only a 5% chance of being below-normal.

The prediction of 17-25 named storms is the highest ever, topping the 14-23 predicted in 2010.

A storm is named once it has sustained winds of 39 miles/hour (63 km/hour).

Several factors support the prediction, including near-record warm ocean temperatures in the Atlantic ocean, development of La Nina conditions in the Pacific, reduced Atlantic trade winds and less wind shear, all of which tend to favor tropical storm formation.

At the same time, abundant oceanic heat content in the tropical Atlantic ocean and Caribbean Sea creates more energy to fuel storm development, NOAA said.

La Nina is typically associated with a stronger US hurricane season because as storms move across the Atlantic ocean, weaker upper- and lower- level winds combine to reduce the vertical wind shear and increased hurricane activity.

The two most-active seasons in the past 24 years, 2005 and 2020, were both transitional climate periods (from El Niño to La Niña, which is what we are currently experiencing).

The water temperature in the mid-Atlantic is already much warmer than normal, which can strongly influence the rapid development and intensity of storms. The picture below shows the same period comparison (May 14-20) in 2005 and 2024.

In the Caribbean, sea surface temperatures are already at levels normally seen in the peak hurricane development period (August/September). These factors are some of the ones scientists consider when setting their forecasts, which helps explain the call for an above-average hurricane season in 2024.

During a news conference to announce the 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook, officials noted that storms can intensify rapidly and urged preparation ahead of time.

Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service, said every category 5 hurricane that made landfall was a tropical storm three days earlier.

Rapidly intensifying storms leave oil companies and chemical plants less time to decide whether they should shut down operations.

As a result, they may err on the side of caution and shut down because they do not have enough time to see if the storm will veer course or hit them.

The forecast predicts 8-13 of the named storms will reach hurricane strength, with 4-7 of them becoming major hurricanes.

Hurricanes are rated using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, numbered from 1 to 5, based on a hurricane’s maximum sustained wind speeds, with a Category 5 storm being the strongest.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale
Category Wind speed
1 74-95 miles/hour
2 96-110 miles/hour
3 111-129 miles/hour
4 130-156 miles/hour
5 157+ miles/hour

Hurricanes and tropical storms can disrupt the North American petrochemical industry because many of the nation’s plants and refineries are along the US Gulf Coast in the states of Texas and Louisiana.

In 2022, oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico accounted for about 15% of total US crude oil production and about 2% of total US dry natural gas production, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Even the threat of a major storm can disrupt oil and natural gas supplies because companies often evacuate US Gulf platforms as a precaution.

The hurricane forecast from Colorado State University’s Weather and Climate Research department also predicted an extremely active season, expecting 23 named storms, 11 hurricanes and five major hurricanes.

Additional reporting by Josh Dillingham

(Recasts to add additional information in paragraphs 8-10)


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