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Hurricane Forecast and Outlook

April 14, 2019 5 min read

After last year's disastrous hurricane season that included storms like Harvey, Irma and Maria, the U.S. probably won't see much of a hurricane reprieve this year, according to forecasters from the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project. The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season forecast was released Thursday, from Colorado State University, calls for a large number of named storms and hurricanes to be slightly above historical averages, but surprisingly less than last year.The group is led by noted expert Dr. Phil Klotzbach and anticipates another busier than normal season with a total of 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes. This slightly above the 30-year average. The averages are: 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. A major hurricane is one that is Category 3 or stronger on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.Numbers of Atlantic Basin named storms. These are those storms that attain at least tropical storm strength, hurricanes, and hurricanes of Category 3 intensity forecast by Colorado State University compared to the 30-year average.

The official Atlantic hurricane season runs from June through November, but occasionally storms form outside those peak months, as seen by last season’s Tropical Storm Arlene in April. The outlook is based more than 30 years of statistical predictors and then combined with seasons exhibiting similar features of sea-level pressure and sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific Oceans.

The Big Question Is, What Does That Mean for The United States?

There is no strong correlation between the number of storms or hurricanes and U.S. landfalls in any given season. Any one (or more) of the 14 named storms that have been forecasted to develop this season could hit the U.S., or they could all veer off and miss us by miles. With so much uncertainty, residents of the coastal United States should prepare each year no matter the forecast. Not to mention any of those that could be affect inland up to hundreds of miles. Historically there are a few couple of classic examples of why you need to be prepared each year. Many of these occurred in 1992 and 1983. The 1992 season produced a below average season producing only 6 named storms and one subtropical storm. However, one of those named storms was Hurricane Andrew, which devastated South Florida and made landfall as Category 5 hurricane. In 1983, again a below average season, there were only 4 named storms. Just like in 1992, one of them was the massive Hurricane Alicia. This Category 3 hurricane slammed the Houston-Galveston area and caused almost as many fatalities and destruction as Andrew did in South Florida. We also have some major examples that stand in stark contrast. The 2010 season was much more historically active. There were 19 named storms and 12 hurricanes that formed in the Atlantic Basin. Despite the large number of storms that year, not a single hurricane and only one tropical storm made landfall in the United States.This means that a season can create many storms but have little or no impact at all. Unfortunately, this also means a season can deliver few storms and have one or more hitting the U.S. coast with devastating results. We all remember the named storms that affected the U.S. in 2017. These ranged from Harvey's destructive hit on the Southern Texas coast to the catastrophic hit on Puerto Rico by Maria.

On average, The U.S. sees one to two hurricane landfalls each season, according to NOAA's Hurricane Research Division statistics. In 2017, we saw a massive increase to 7 named storms impacted the U.S. coast, including Puerto Rico, most notably hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which hammered Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. In 2016, we again can see the above average creation of large storms with 5 named storms impacted the Southeast U.S. coast, the most notable was the Hurricane Matthew, and its inland rainfall and major flooding. Surprisingly, before that the number of U.S. landfalls had been well below the 30 year average over the previous 10 years. The 10-year running total of U.S. hurricane landfalls from 2006 through 2015 was only 7. This is according to Alex Lamers, a National Weather Service meteorologist. This completed record low for any 10-year period dating to 1850, which is considerably lower than the average of 17 per 10-year period dating tall the way back to 1850.


It's near impossible to know for a fact if a hurricane will make landfall in the United States, or if multiple storms will occur this season. Its important to keep in mind that even a weak tropical storm hitting the U.S. can result in major damage, especially when flooding is considered.


Will El Niño or La Niña play a role?

The odds are increasingly in favor for the development of a neutral state of El Niño or a weak El Niño by the middle of the hurricane season. This means, near average or slightly warmer than average water temperatures in the eastern Pacific are likely.mRising temperatures in the equatorial Pacific is a sign that La Niña is waning. El Niño, or the warming of the central and eastern equatorial waters of the Pacific Ocean, typically produce s areas of strong wind shear and sinking air in parts of the Atlantic Basin. This is hostile to both the development or continuance of tropical storms.The chances of El Niño development start to rise towards the end of the season, according to the Climate Prediction Center, but its’s neutral surroundings are most likely during the height of the hurricane season, which usually happens in September. Dr. Klotzbach noted in the forecast that there is considerable uncertainty regarding the future state of El Niño. He stated, "the latest plume of ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) predictions from a large number of statistical and dynamical models shows a large spread by the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season in August-October." However, based on the current information, Klotzbach says that the "best estimate is that we will likely have neutral ENSO conditions by the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season."Other factors that can be detrimental to tropical storm or hurricane development include dry air and wind shear. The 2013 and 2014 seasons featured prohibitive dry air and/or wind shear during a significant part of the season, but El Niño was nowhere to be found. This was the second April outlook issued since the passing of Dr. William Gray, noted hurricane researcher and emeritus professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University.