NOAA Predicts Busier Than Normal Atlantic Hurricane Season

May 31, 2017
Source: NOAA May 25, 2017 - Forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center say the Atlantic could see another above-normal hurricane season this year. - NOAA

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of summer, kicking off a season local business owners hope will attract scores of thousands of visitors to Long Beach Island. June 1 is the official start of another season, one that could drive those tourists away in droves at the drop of a hat. It’s the Atlantic Basin hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30.

Unfortunately, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting an “above-normal” season in 2017.

According to NOAA, the average Atlantic Basin hurricane season consists of a dozen named storms with 39 miles per hour or above winds, with six becoming hurricanes and three turning into “major” hurricanes – Category 3 or above on the Saffir-Simpson Scale with winds of at least 111 mph. NOAA is saying there is a 70 percent chance of 11 to 17 named storms this year, five to nine of which will become hurricanes with winds of at least 74 mph, including two to four which will reach the major level.

Southern Ocean County has caught a break, hurricane-wise, since Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Jersey Shore in October 2012. The 2013 season produced only two Category 1 hurricanes, the first time since 1968 there had been no Category 2 or above blows. In 2014 there were only eight named storms, the fewest since 1997, with six hurricanes, two of which became majors. 2015 brought 11 storms and four hurricanes, two classified as major.

2016 finally produced an above-average season with 15 named storms and seven hurricanes, three of which cracked the major barrier. But Southern Ocean County was spared, as hurricanes that had battered Florida and the Carolinas turned east before New Jersey.

Let’s hope Southern Ocean County residents haven’t become too complacent, because NOAA feels its 2017 forecast is based on solid underpinnings.

“The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Niño, 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 Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Strong El Niños, cold water in the tropical Atlantic, and wind shear usually suppress development of Atlantic Basin hurricanes, so the prediction of a weak or no El Niño, warm water and less wind shear than normal indicates a busier hurricane season.

The NOAA forecast is more dire than that issued by Philip J. Klotzbach and Michael M. Bell of the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project. They called for “slightly below-average activity” including 11 named storms and four hurricanes, two of them Category 3 or above. Klotzbach and Bell disagreed not only with NOAA’s prediction, but also with the underlying observations.

“The current ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) is likely to transition to either weak or moderate El Niño conditions by the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season,” they wrote. “The tropical Atlantic has anomalously cooled over the past month and the far North Atlantic (is) relatively cold, potentially indicative of a negative phase of the Atlantic-Decadal Oscillation.”

How can the two forecasts be so different? Simple – the Colorado State forecast was made on April 6 while NOAA’s was released on May 25, giving the government forecasters more-current data. Klotzbach and Bell will release an update on June 1, and the former, speaking at a hurricane conference in Florida a couple of weeks ago, said he and Bell were thinking of increasing their forecast.

— Rick Mellerup

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