Meteorologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center and Colorado State University (CSU) are anticipating a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season this year. NOAA’s hurricane outlook sees a 70% probability that there will be 10-16 named storms, 4-8 hurricanes with 1-4 of those being major hurricanes. CSU’s forecast similarly predicts that 12 tropical storms will form with five of those becoming hurricanes. A typical hurricane season has 12 tropical storms, of which seven become hurricanes. Tropical storms, which have sustained winds of 39 mph, become hurricanes when winds reach 74 mph.
Although the past three Atlantic hurricane seasons have seen below-average numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes, both NOAA’s and CSU’s forecasts show a possible uptick, citing both a weakening El Niño and the possible onset of the cooling La Niña pattern. During El Niño years, strong upper-level westerly winds suppress Atlantic hurricane formation. A weakening El Niño pattern would mean lower sea surface temperatures and rising air, which is needed for
These annual forecasts are only estimates of tropical storm activity in the upcoming season. CSU’s forecast has only been considered accurate – where the prediction fell within two hurricanes of what the year actually recorded – six of the past 16 years. There is not a strong correlation between the number of storms and hurricanes and the number that make landfall in the U.S., which means even one hurricane can have a devastating impact. In 2012, for example, a year where CSU called for landfall probabilities lower than the climatological average, both Hurricane Isaac and Hurricane Sandy struck with Sandy causing an estimated $67 billion in damages and 159 related deaths.
This year, NOAA plans to fly up to eight aerial drones directly into tropical storms, gathering new types of hurricane related data that planes have been unable to previously capture. NOAA believes this data can help increase the accuracy of hurricane outlooks in future seasons. Although just estimates, hurricane outlooks are useful guides for emergency managers, insurance companies and organizations who need to prepare their people and pre-position resources for major tropical storms and hurricanes.