Weather forecasters are expecting a busier than usual hurricane season in the Atlantic this year. An estimated 12 to 17 named storms are predicted for the season, which began June 1 and continues through November 30. August and September are often considered to be the busiest months of hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said it expects five to eight of the storms to develop into hurricanes, and two to four of these will likely be major hurricanes.
An oceanic storm must have sustained winds of at least 74 mph to be classified as a hurricane. To be considered a major hurricane, the storm must have sustained winds of at least 111 mph.
It’s been more than a decade since a major hurricane slammed into the U.S. coast, which is a record lull since hurricane records first began in 1851. The last storm to strike the mainland United States was Hurricane Wilma in 2005, which was a record-setting year for hurricanes. That was the year there were five major Atlantic hurricanes that made landfall -- Dennis, Emily, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. 2005 was also the last year that a hurricane hit Texas, when Rita made landfall between Sabine Pass, Texas and Holly Beach, Louisiana.
With the El Nino weather pattern hovering over the state in 2015, the Atlantic saw decreased storm activity last year, with two major hurricanes which both stayed away from the United States.
“It only takes one storm hitting an area to cause a disaster, regardless of the overall activity,” said Dr. Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster for NOAA. “Therefore, residents, businesses, and government agencies of coastal and near-coastal regions are urged to prepare every hurricane season regardless of this, or any other, seasonal outlook.
“Predicting where and when hurricanes will strike is related to daily weather patterns, which are not reliably predictable weeks or months in advance. Therefore, it is currently not possible to accurately predict the number or intensity of landfalling hurricanes at these extended ranges, or whether a particular locality will be impacted by a hurricane this season.”
In its latest forecast, NOAA projected an 85 percent possibility that the number of hurricanes would be near-normal or above normal.
While hurricane season hasn’t been unusually active so far, that might be changing soon, Bell said, adding that storm activity in the Atlantic could start to rise.
“NOAA’s updated hurricane outlook is calling for even more activity than what we had predicted in May,” he said. Part of the reason is a stronger monsoon season in Africa, which can also affect other parts of the world.
“When that monsoon is stronger that means the winds coming off Africa are much more conducive to spinning African cloud systems that move westward,” Bell said. That westward travel sends the potential storm systems into the Atlantic, and potentially, the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Weather Network meteorologist Mario Picazo said warmer than usual waters in the Atlantic, “well above what we would be expecting for this time of year,” provide favorable conditions for hurricane formation.
“This warming water far from the breeding grounds of many hurricanes that move into the U.S. from the south and east could mean more activity than anticipated in the coming months,” he said. “August, September and in some years October are the most active months in terms of hurricane activity in the Atlantic, and as waters warm, other atmospheric conditions being favorable, the potential energy for these storms to form grows significantly.”
If you live near the coast or know someone who does, there are several things that can be done in advance of a hurricane that can help people stay safe. First and foremost is to pay close attention to weather reports which can offer plenty of advance notice of approaching danger.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, NOAA and the American Red Cross each provide important hurricane preparedness information on their websites.