(CN) – The Atlantic hurricane season should be “near normal” in 2016, with 10 to 16 named storms and possibly as many as four major hurricanes, federal forecasters predicted Friday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration went on to say the outlook for the eastern Pacific and central Pacific basins will likely experience a near-normal or slightly above normal hurricane season this year.
NOAA forecasters said the central Pacific could see anywhere from four to seven named tropical cyclones, while the eastern Pacific has a good chance of having 13 to 20 named storms, of which six to 11 are expected to become hurricanes, including 3-6 major hurricanes.
The government released its forecast Friday as residents in the Southeast U.S. are looking warily toward an area of showers and storms located between Bermuda and the Bahamas that has become better organized in recent days as it slowly drifts closer to the Carolinas.
The National Hurricane Center on Friday said there is a 90 percent chance for tropical development off the southeast coast of the United States by late tonight or Saturday. A hurricane hunter aircraft is scheduled to fly into the system Friday afternoon.
If this system becomes a tropical or subtropical storm, it would be named Bonnie. Alex, the “A-name” on the 2016 Atlantic storm name list, was already used for a rare hurricane that formed in January over the far eastern Atlantic.
“This is a more challenging hurricane season outlook than most because it’s difficult to determine whether there will be reinforcing or competing climate influences on tropical storm development,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
“However, a near-normal prediction for this season suggests we could see more hurricane activity than we’ve seen in the last three years, which were below normal,” he said.
Bell explained there is uncertainty about whether the high activity era of Atlantic hurricanes, which began in 1995, has ended. This high-activity era has been associated with an ocean temperature pattern called the warm phase of the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO), marked by warmer Atlantic Ocean temperatures and a stronger West African monsoon.
However, during the last three years weaker hurricane seasons have been accompanied by a shift toward the cool AMO phase, marked by cooler Atlantic Ocean temperatures and a weaker West African monsoon.
If this shift proves to be more than short-lived, it could usher in a low-activity era for Atlantic hurricanes, and this period may already have begun. High- and low-activity eras typically last 25 to 40 years.
In addition, El Niño is dissipating and NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a 70 percent chance that La Niña — which favors more hurricane activity — will be present during the peak months of hurricane season, August through October. However, current model predictions show uncertainty as to how strong La Niña and its impacts will be.
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