Latest hurricane season forecasts point to fewer storms

Posted: Aug 09, 2018 7:24 PM Updated:

We are 10 weeks into hurricane season and about one month away from peak season in early September. The forecasts put out by various groups for hurricane season get a lot of attention in June, but did you know they're updated every August? These forecasts come right before the peak of the season and give people an idea what to expect as we enter this critical period.

Let's look at the updates for the two most respected forecasts, one from Colorado State University, and the other from NOAA, the government science administration that oversees the National Hurricane Center.

 

Overall, these numbers are about the same, with Colorado State's numbers right in the middle of the range of possibilities forecast by NOAA. We've already had four named storms this season and two hurricanes. If the numbers in these forecasts hold up, we would end up with an average or slightly below average season counting the storms we've had already.

Why are the forecasts pointing to lower activity, even though we're about to reach the most active part of the season?

 

The Atlantic is still cool.

It's not as dramatic as what we saw in most of June and July, but the tropical Atlantic remains cooler than normal for early to mid August. The dominant wind patterns across the Atlantic early in the season brought lots of cool water from the north. The water has been warming up in recent weeks, it's summer after all, but any tropical systems will still have less fuel to work with. That leaves them vulnerable to other factors such as wind shear and patches of dry air.

 

There's a lot of dry air out there.

Speaking of which, dry and stable air has dominated in the Atlantic so far this season. The same patterns that brought in cooler waters have added cooler, drier, and more stable air into the mix. Thunderstorms need moisture and unstable air to thrive. In addition to that, even more dry, stable, and dusty air continues to get pushed over the Atlantic from the Sahara Desert in Africa. Without thunderstorms, there's nothing to organize into tropical systems and the rest of the puzzle pieces here don't matter.

 

El Niño could be coming soon.

The Pacific Ocean off of South America is slowly warming and has been since this past winter. Forecasts predict at 70 percent chance of El Niño this winter and a 65 percent chance that this transition takes place before hurricane season ends at the end of November. When El Niño develops in the East Pacific, global wind patterns change as a result. This includes seeing more winds blowing west to east across the Caribbean and into the Atlantic. Because these winds oppose the movement and rotation of tropical storms and hurricanes, they act as wind shear, the enemy of tropical development. Years of data show that when El Niño appears, Atlantic hurricanes become few and far between. We'll be watching for the influence of El Niño in the First Alert Hurricane Center as we get into the back end of hurricane season in October and November.

 

Time to relax? Think again.

Here's something to think about. Which hurricane season do you consider to be worse?

  • 15 storms, but only 3 make landfall as weak tropical storms
  • 5 storms, but 2 of them are hurricanes that make multiple landfalls in the Caribbean and United States

In 1992 there were only 6 named storms, but one of those was Hurricane Andrew. In the last 67 years, Andrew is only one of two Category 5 storms to make landfall in the United States.

The bottom line is that it only takes one storm to make a season a bad season. It pays to be prepared for hurricane season every season, no matter what the numbers are.

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