Local meteorologist Jay Grymes talked about El Niño and the reason why big storms can sometimes hit despite predictions of below-normal seasons.
He spoke during a July visit to the Zachary Rotary Club.
A season that began June 1 and lasts until Nov. 30, has been forecasted by most of the expert weather centers — National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, researchers at Colorado State University and North Carolina State University, AccuWeather, StormGeo and The Weather Channel — to be a season with fewer named storms than historical averages, he said.
Grymes said the outlook calls for a 70 percent chance of 6 to 11 named storms (including Ana, Bill and Claudette); a 20 percent chance of 3 to 6 storms becoming hurricanes; and a 10 percent chance of zero to 2 storms becoming major hurricanes.
Hurricanes Audrey (1957), Betsy (1965) and Andrew (1992) all occurred in below-normal seasons.
Some of the reasons for a less active season include water temperatures being cooler than in recent years and persistently drier air with low humidity over the Tropical Atlantic.
“When air sinks from above, it has to get warmer and drier. It’s called sinking air and squashes any tropical wave trying to get started,” said Grymes.
Another weather event that affects the Atlantic hurricane season is El Niño, a periodic warming of the equatorial Pacific waters.
“We care about El Niño because more of our weather comes from the west than one might think. It translates downstream and affects us in the Gulf,” Grymes said.
True, the season has been a below-normal one, but most storms occur in August (22 percent) and September (47 percent).
The 2005 Atlantic Hurricane season was the worst and most active in recorded history, and of the storms that made landfall, five of the season’s seven major hurricanes — Dennis, Emily, Katrina, Rita and Wilma — were responsible for most of the destruction.
“But who remembers early-forming Dennis (July) or late-forming Wilma (October)? Everyone remembers Katrina and Rita but not Wilma, and it was a Category 5,” said Grimes. “It was also a notable year because the list of storm names was used up and six Greek names had to be used.” The 2014 season featured the fewest number of named storms in 17 years (eight storms) but also featured the strongest land-falling hurricane in the mainland U.S. in six years, Hurricane Arthur.
In 1983, there were only four named storms predicted but one of them was Alicia, a Category 3 hurricane that pummeled the Houston-Galveston area.
“The point of all of this is, it only takes one storm and you can’t wait until August to get ready,” said Grymes. “It’s also why anything in the Gulf gets my attention.”