The chances of a major hurricane happening this year have dropped dramatically, federal forecasters said on Thursday.
That upbeat revised prediction comes just as the Atlantic hurricane season typically heats up, with August, September and October historically producing the most and strongest storms.
The reasons for the dwindling possibilities: Cooler surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, non-conducive wind patterns and warmer Pacific Ocean waters are creating a hostile environment for hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean basins.
All that adds up to a less likely chance of major storms forming through the end of hurricane season on Nov. 30, according to a top researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Prior to the start of hurricane season this year in June, NOAA forecasters expected to see between 10 and 16 named storms, five to nine hurricanes and up to four major hurricanes with winds in excess of 111 miles per hour. But this year’s mid-season forecast looks much brighter, said Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead seasonal forecaster.
The predicted number of major storms has dropped to between none and two. And NOAA now expects only between nine and 13 named storms with four to seven of them reaching hurricane level. That includes the four named storms that have already formed this year.
“There’s much more inhospitable weather. And the weather and climate models agree,” Bell said. “It’s an entire combination of conditions that suppresses hurricane activity.”
Like the early season forecast, the mid-year update offers only a general guide of likely scenarios. NOAA can’t predict landfall because that’s based on weather patterns at the time of the storm. Bell said surface water temperatures in the Atlantic haven’t been this chilly since the early 1990s — but he wouldn’t go so far as predicting a pattern for upcoming seasons.
Water temperatures were unusually warm during the slow hurricane season of 2015. But last year was a brutal storm season, with 10 consecutive hurricanes forming in the Atlantic, Maria devastating Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean and Irma sweeping through the Florida Keys and striking the state’s southwest coast with strong Category 4 winds.
Bell also said that though El Niño hasn’t yet formed over the Pacific Ocean, the likelihood of it forming has almost doubled. El Niño warms sea temperatures in the Pacific and creates unfavorable wind-shear for storm conditions in the Atlantic. Back in May, forecasters gave El Niño a less than 50 percent chance of forming this year.
Still, the forecaster warned the 80 million Gulf and Atlantic coast residents to stay alert. It’s worth repeating, Bell said, that it only takes one storm to make life miserable for millions of people.
Hurricane Andrew, one of most devastating storms in U.S. history, struck South Dade in late August of 1992. It was the first named storm of the season.