NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a near-normal or below-normal Atlantic hurricane season this year thanks largely to the presence of El Niño conditions in the tropical region.
According to the Climate Prediction Center, the chances of El Niño conditions increases during the reminder of the 2014, exceeding 65 percent during the summer months. The conditions cause stronger wind shear and increased trade winds, strengthening the atmospheric stability across the tropical Atlantic. This makes it more difficult for cloud systems coming off of Africa to intensify into tropical storms thus reducing both the number and magnitude of storms that reach Atlantic.
NOAA reports the outlook calls for a 50 percent chance of a below-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season. For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA predicts a 70 percent likelihood of 8 to 13 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 3 to 6 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 1 to 2 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).
This is good news for a region that includes North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, which has seen above-normal seasons in 12 of the last 20 years.
“Atmospheric and oceanic conditions across the tropical Pacific are already taking on some El Niño characteristics. Also, we are currently seeing strong trade winds and wind shear over the tropical Atlantic, and NOAA’s climate models predict these conditions will persist, in part because of El Niño,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “The expectation of near-average Atlantic Ocean temperatures this season, rather than the above-average temperatures seen since 1995, also suggests fewer Atlantic hurricanes.”
However, it is important to note that the seasonal hurricane outlook is not the same as a hurricane landfall forecast and does not predict where or how many of the storms will hit land.
“Even though we expect El Niño to suppress the number of storms this season, it’s important to remember it takes only one land falling storm to cause a disaster,” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA administrator.
In an effort to help boaters and coastal inhabitants stay safe during hurricane season, NOAA is launching new tools including an updated Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting Model and the debut of their storm surge mapping tool. NOAA is also continuing to raise awareness with last month’s National Hurricane Preparedness Week. Boaters and Coast Dwellers should continue to monitor the National Hurricane Center throughout the hurricane season for warnings and information on developing storms.
"It only takes one hurricane or tropical storm making landfall to have disastrous impacts on our communities," said Joe Nimmich, FEMA associate administrator for Response and Recovery. "Just last month, Pensacola, Florida saw five inches of rain in 45 minutes – without a tropical storm or hurricane. We need you to be ready. Know your risk for hurricanes and severe weather, take action now to be prepared and be an example for others in your office, school or community.