What is going on with oceanic temperatures?

It’s undeniable, sea surface temperatures have been, lately, alarmingly high. In July, temperatures throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean are record setting with averages over 2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for this time of year. Since records were stablished in 1982, temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico have been the warmest.

A key point for the formations of tropical storms and hurricanes are those extra degrees in the ocean. The warmer the water and the deeper the warm water layer goes, the ocean becomes more supportive for thunderstorm and tropical cyclone production in the atmosphere. Throughout this hurricane season there has not been much wind or storm activity over the Gulf of Mexico, that could help dissipate the ocean's heat.

High sea surface temperatures are only one of a many conditions that can lead to a hurricane. The rise in temperatures has brought other factors that contribute to the creation of extreme weather conditions, humidity in the region, low upper level wind shear and in general, atmospheric instability. Currently there is a large region of warm waters along the equatorial Atlantic going through the gulf meaning that there is quite a bit of fuel for a Gulf/Caribbean forming hurricane.

So far we have been lucky because the atmosphere has remained relatively dry. The Saharan dry air originating in Africa has been common from Mexico to Africa, but as this dry air moves across the warmer oceans there is a strong possibility that the atmosphere will become more humid and as such favorable for hurricane activity. However, the meteorological phenomenon La Niña, is still at hand as a meteorological/(Climatic) possibility. La Niña is characterized by below-normal water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. When this occurs, less wind is originated in the Gulf, Caribbean and Atlantic regions, increasing the potential for a higher-than-normal amount of tropical storms.
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