Active Atlantic hurricane season still expected

A mundane hurricane season so far in the United States is still expected to reach an active level according to an update to a spring forecast released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

As predicted last spring, La Niña has formed in the tropical Pacific Ocean. This favors lower wind shear over the Atlantic Basin, allowing storm clouds to grow and organize. Other climate factors pointing to an active hurricane season are warmer-than-average water in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean, and the tropical multi-decadal signal, which since 1995 has brought favorable ocean and atmospheric conditions in unison, leading to more active seasons.

“August heralds the start of the most active phase of the Atlantic hurricane season and with the meteorological factors in place, now is the time for everyone living in hurricane prone areas to be prepared,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

Across the entire Atlantic Basin for the rest of the hurricane season, which ends on November 30, NOAA’s updated outlook is projecting, with a 70 percent probability, a total of 14 to 20 named storms (top winds of 39mph or higher). Eight to 12 of those storms are expected to reach hurricane strength (74mph or higher), of which four to six could become major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5 – or winds of at least 111mph). These figures include the three storms so far this season: Alex, Bonnie and Colin, none of which touched American soil.

The predicted ranges are still indicative of an active season, compared to the average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes; however, the upper bounds of the ranges have been lowered from the initial outlook in late May, which reflected the possibility of even more early season activity. The pre-season outlook called for 14-23 named storms with eight to 14 of them becoming hurricanes.

According to data from the National Hurricane Center, the calm start to the 2010hurricane season is not a reliable indicator of the overall activity for the entire season. On average only one or two storms form during an Atlantic Hurricane Season’s first two months and the 1992 Atlantic hurricane season, for example, had a below-normal number of named storms and hurricanes still had dangerous activity. The first storm did not form until late August that year, when Hurricane Andrew hit southern Florida as a destructive Category 5 storm. Andrew caused 15 deaths directly, 25 deaths indirectly and $30-billion in property damage, making it the costliest disaster in United States history.           

“All indications are for considerable activity during the next several months,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “As we’ve seen in past years, storms can come on quickly during the peak months of the season. There remains a high likelihood that the season could be very active, with the potential of being one of the more active on record.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) admits that modern technology, which aids NOAA in predicting hurricanes, has helped to suggest how many storms will form but not predict when disasters such as Andrew will occur.                                             

“NOAA’s outlooks are extremely valuable when determining cycles and trends for the season, however they don’t tell us when the next storm will occur or where it may strike,” said FEMA administrator Craig Fugate. “It only takes one storm to put a community at risk. That is why we need to take action and prepare ourselves and our families before the next storm hits, including developing a family disaster plan. By taking a few simple steps now we can help ensure that we are better prepared and that our first responders are able to focus on our most vulnerable citizens.”