Forecasters Warn of Above-Average Hurricane Season

Boats lay sunk and damaged by Hurricane Michael at the marina in Port St. Joe, Fla., on Oct. 10, 2018. (Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

(CN) – With the recent dissipation of El Niño, the Atlantic Ocean is predicted to see more hurricanes than normal this year, according to an assessment by government meteorologists.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association said in its updated outlook for the 2019 hurricane season there is a 45% chance of increased hurricane activity in the Atlantic. That agency predicts 10 to 17 named storms developing in the Atlantic, with five to nine of them spinning up into hurricanes. Two to four, it expects, will develop into major hurricanes.

The 2018 season saw two major hurricanes – Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 storm that flooded the Carolinas, and Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 that devastated parts of the Florida Panhandle.

In May, NOAA said the outlook of the 2019 hurricane season would be “near normal.”

At that time, NOAA said there was a 60% chance that El Nino would continue through much of the peak Atlantic hurricane season. But the weather pattern dissipated, leaving factors such as a strong West African monsoon wind system contributing to hurricane development.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Gerry Bell, the lead season forecaster for NOAA, said the Atlantic has seen high hurricane activity since 1995. Historically, these high-activity periods last between 25 to 40 years.

“At least through this year it does not look like that high-activity era is fading,” Bell said. “But we don’t know how long it will last.”

At the beginning of August, NOAA typically provides an update to its hurricane outlook – just as the season is set to reach its peak in August to October. In seasons past, this is when 95% of hurricanes have formed.  The season ends Nov. 30.

Two storms have already developed this hurricane season. Tropical Strom Barry, which briefly summoned the strength to become a Category 1 hurricane, dumped heavy rain on Louisiana and Mississippi in mid-July. A tropical depression also briefly formed east of the Bahamas last month but quickly faded.

The NOAA outlook does not predict the number of hurricanes that may make landfall in a season, or what areas might need to prepare for extreme weather.

“Where the storm strikes, how many storms strike, how strong they are when they strike, all those factors depend on the exact weather conditions that are in place as the storm is approaching,” Bell said.

El Nino is the periodic warming of water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that can cause droughts in Australia and India while saturating parts of the United States with above-average precipitation.

“El Nino typically suppresses Atlantic hurricane activity but now that it’s gone, we could see a busier season ahead,” Bell said. “This evolution, combined with the more conducive conditions associated with the ongoing high-activity era for Atlantic hurricanes that began in 1995, increases the likelihood of above-normal activity this year.”

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