Forecasters at Colorado State University are calling for an average hurricane season this year, even as storm-crushing El Niño conditions are expected to fade over the summer.
The university’s Tropical Meteorology Project, led by Philip Klotzbach, is forecasting 12 named storms, with five becoming hurricanes and two of those reaching Category 3 or higher wind speeds.
The yearly average is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes — those Category 3 or greater.
Although the prediction is for an average Atlantic hurricane season, it’s still for one more active than last year, which had 11 named storms, four of which became hurricanes.
The 2016 forecast doesn’t include Hurricane Alex, which formed in January but stayed well out to sea in the northern Atlantic Ocean.
“Coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them, and they need to prepare the same for every season, regardless of how much activity is predicted,” according to the forecast released Thursday.
Last year, the El Niño weather condition helped produce wind shear that either stopped tropical storms and hurricanes from advancing across the Atlantic Ocean or limited their growth. This year, the forecast is that El Niño could weaken to neutral or even swing to the opposite La Niña pattern, when the helpful wind shears tend to drop off.
El Niño and the counterpart La Niña are part of a cycle of colder and warmer waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean that affects weather patterns around the country.
Even so, the north Atlantic Ocean is intensely cold, and that can create conditions in the atmosphere that also hamper the formation and strengthening of tropical storms, according to the forecast.
In addition to predicting the number of storms, the forecast also has landfall probabilities for the United States and the Caribbean.
It’s been 10 years since a major hurricane, defined as one with wind speeds of 111 mph or higher, has hit the United States. Although Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Isaac did a large amount of damage in 2012, neither made landfall as a Category 3 storm or higher.
The Colorado State forecast sees a 50 percent chance that a major storm will hit the United States this season and a 29 percent chance that one will strike the Gulf Coast.
The big unknowns this season are when the El Niño condition will weaken and what sea surface temperatures will be in the Atlantic Ocean by the time hurricane season arrives June 1.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release its season forecast in May, and the Colorado team’s next forecast update will be June 1.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.