North Atlantic Ocean temperatures have reached record-breaking levels, with an average sea surface readings of 76.8° Fahrenheit (24.9° Celsius) observed on July 26th. A series of shallow buoys of the coast of Florida recorded water temps in excess of 100° Fahrenheit. These unprecedented warm waters are set to impact the Atlantic hurricane season, which is typically busiest from August to early October.

Despite the strong El Niño effect, which usually reduces tropical activity, the 2023 season has already had an active start with five named storms and one hurricane, none of which threatened the petrochemical producing part of the Gulf Coast. The unusually warm waters could lead to cyclones strengthening faster and becoming more intense, potentially overriding the El Niño's dampening effect.

Several factors contribute to the seasonal ramp-up in August, including low wind shear, rising sea-surface temperatures, and increased instability. The record warmth in the Atlantic Ocean is more than one degree warmer than a 30-year climatological average, and this overheating has occurred early, weeks before the traditional seasonal peak.

Seasonal forecasts hint at 18 named tropical systems for 2023, well above the 30-year average. The record-warm Atlantic could boost the intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes, leading to explosive and rapidly developing storms.

The US plastics and petrochemical industry, centered along the northwest gulf coast has been vulnerable to significant production disruption storms in the past. Some of these storms have caused massive infrastructure damage, which has restricted monomer and resin supplies and have sent these prices soaring. Even the threat of an impending hurricane could trigger preventative measures and shutdowns, which are already disruptive.

Major gulf storms of recent memory include Hurricane Rita (2005), Katrina (2005), Ike (2008), Gustav (2008), Isaac (2012), Harvey (2017), Laura (2020) and Ida (2021).

The 2023 hurricane season, covering the entire Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean region, promises to be one of the most closely watched and potentially impactful in recent history. The combination of record-breaking warm waters and the annual peak of tropical activity sets the stage for a season that could defy expectations and present unprecedented challenges for the petrochemical industry.

- - The Plastic Exchange