(KXAN) — In our week-long “Summer Outlook” series, we have identified several factors that could tilt our odds toward a hotter, drier than normal summer. But there is one variable that could bring significant summer rain to Central Texas.

Colorado State University forecasters are expecting the seventh consecutive busier than normal Atlantic hurricane season, potentially bringing 19 tropical storms and nine hurricanes. These predictions could rise even higher within the next month.

But an even more specific factor could lead to intense hurricanes close to Texas this year — the Loop Current.

Dr. Jeff Masters is known around the world for his climate change and hurricane research.

“The western Caribbean has some of the warmest waters anywhere in the entire Atlantic,” Dr. Masters said. “The Loop Current is a warm water current that carries water from the western Caribbean into the Gulf of Mexico. During hurricane season, it can act as a source of very warm and quite deep water to help power rapid intensification of hurricanes.”

More on KXAN’s Summer Outlook series

Dr. Masters wrote this week about a unique Loop Current phenomenon he expects to happen this summer that has fostered devastating hurricanes in the past. Chief Meteorologist David Yeomans spoke with him about it.

“If you look at the top 20 list of most expensive weather disasters in world history, four of them have been hurricanes that have rapidly intensified when they encountered a portion of the Loop Current which broke off into a clockwise-spinning eddy,” Dr. Masters said. “When that eddy intersects with the course of a hurricane, the hurricane can suck heat energy right out of [it].”

KXAN animation showing the warm Loop Current in the Gulf, and an eddy breaking off from it and meandering westward. These areas of deep, warm ocean water have very high heat content — and can act as jet fuel for a developing hurricane.

Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Harvey and Ida all rapidly intensified after passing over one of these Loop Current eddies in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is important to note, however, that the mere presence of near-record warm water in the Gulf this year does not guarantee that a storm will cross over it.

“The tracks of the hurricanes this year could be completely different,” Dr. Masters said.

Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1.

It is important to note that the background of a warming climate is already predisposing us toward hotter temperatures in any given summer.

Austin’s average summer temperature has risen nearly 4° since 1970. That can be the difference between a 98° day and a 102° day.

Image showing how nationwide temperatures have changed during the summer months since 1970.
Change in summer temperatures across the U.S. since 1970

The warming we have recorded in Austin is some of the most intense summer warming anywhere in the U.S. This is leading to longer stretches of back-to-back 100° days each summer — something that used to be more rare.