The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30 and this year it may be very active. Forecasters from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center predict a 45 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 35 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 20 percent chance of a below-normal season.
The forecasters predict a 70 percent likelihood of 11 to 17 named storms, of which 5 to 9 could become hurricanes, including 2 to 4 major hurricanes. An average season produces 12 named storms of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.
“The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Nino, near or above average sea surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker than average vertical wind shear in that same region,” said Dr. Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
Strong El Ninos and wind shear typically suppress development of Atlantic hurricanes, so the prediction for weak conditions points to more hurricane activity this year. Additionally, warmer sea surface temperatures tend to fuel hurricanes as they move across the ocean.
In a press release NOAA announced it has some new tools this year to improve hurricane warning capabilities and aid public readiness in the areas of observing, modeling, forecasting and communications tools. They are:
Goes-16 satellite will give hurricane forecasters greater image resolution, sharp detail and rapid refresh rate. Its lightening mapper, will allow forecasters to see lightning strikes that build within tropical cyclones – a possible sign of strengthening.
The combination of two high resolution hurricane models will improve forecast guidance. The upgraded Hurricane Weather Research Forecast model adds better representation of storms at higher vertical resolution. It can improve intensity forecasts by as much as 10 percent and track forecasts by as much as seven percent. Additionally, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Hurricane Model is being replaced with a new hurricane model Called HMON, for Hurricanes in a Multi-Scale Ocean-Coupled Non-Hydrostatic, which has superior track and intensity forecast skill.
NOAA’s National Hurricane Center is providing a suite of new forecast and communication tools this season. Forecasters there will issue Storm Surge Watches and Warnings operationally this year, in addition to issuing advisories, watches and warnings for disturbances that aren’t yet a tropical cyclone but still threaten land with tropical storm or hurricane conditions within 48 hours. The center added a new experimental visualization tool so the public can easily see when damaging winds are forecast to reach their community. Also, beginning this year, the public will be able to click on the hurricane track cone graphic and see how far outside of the cone hurricane and tropical storm force winds extend, which can be hundreds of miles.
“Regardless of how many storms develop this year, it only takes one to disrupt our lives,” said Acting FEMA Administrator Robert J. Fenton, Jr. “Get ready now with these easy, low cost steps that will leave you better prepared and will make all the difference: Have a family discussion about what you will do, where you will go and how you will communicate with each other when a storm threatens; Know your evacuation route; tune into your local news or download the FEMA app to get alerts, and finally – listen to local authorities as a storm approaches.”