Near-normal ocean surface temperatures and the probability that an El Niño climate condition will form later this summer led forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to predict a near-average hurricane season this year.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1.
“El Niño is a major climate factor that influences the Atlantic hurricane season,” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said during a press conference Thursday.
An El Niño event involves the warming of water in the Pacific Ocean, which ultimately leads to more wind shear over the tropical Atlantic Ocean, which can hamper tropical systems from forming or reduce the strength of those that do form.
Although El Niño hasn’t developed yet, it’s expected to do so this summer or early fall, Bell said.
That El Niño, along with near-normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, is expected to counteract the active cycle in the Atlantic Ocean since 1995.
The hurricane season outlook calls for a 70 percent likelihood of having eight to 13 named storms, of which three to six could become hurricanes. Of those hurricanes, there’s a chance one or two could develop into Category 3, 4 or 5 storms with wind speeds of 111 mph or higher.
This is at or below the average season, which is based on averages from 1981 to 2010. The average season includes 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, according to the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
However, speakers Thursday warned, just because this isn’t expected to be a very active year, it only takes one storm to devastate an area. The El Niño year of 1992 only produced a handful of storms, but one of those storms — Hurricane Andrew — devastated parts of Florida and Louisiana.
“Today’s announcement is not about numbers and percentages,” said Kathryn Sullivan, the NOAA administrator.
Instead, the announcement should serve primarily as a way to remind people living along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico that hurricane season is right around the corner and to be prepared.
“It only takes one,” said Joseph Nimmich, Federal Emergency Management Agency associate administrator. “You need to know your threat.”
People need to not only put together a hurricane kit with food, water, emergency documents, medicine and other items, but also to have a plan, he said. When people are told to evacuate, they need to have a place to go.
To help people get better informed about the threat they could face from a tropical system, the National Weather Service is launching a number of new graphics to help communicate risks during storm alerts.
One of those new graphics shows projected flooding for areas that expected to be impacted by storm surge. This new map will take the coastline into account and show a realistic worst-case scenario of flooding. This map will be released every six hours, about an hour after updated tropical system forecasts are released.
“Sandy reminds us that the loss of life and property from a tropical storm doesn’t necessarily come from wind and rain,” Sullivan said.
It was the storm surge that provided much of the damage. Better understanding of what that damage can be is key to keeping people safe.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.