Weather

La Nina shift could increase risk of hurricanes for South Mississippi

While the 2016 hurricane season has been predicted to be mild, the shift from an El Nino sytem into a La Nina could mean the risk of hurricanes will be slightly elevated by late summer. (Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team/NASA via AP)
While the 2016 hurricane season has been predicted to be mild, the shift from an El Nino sytem into a La Nina could mean the risk of hurricanes will be slightly elevated by late summer. (Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team/NASA via AP) AP

The "little boy" will soon become the "little girl," but not in the way you may be thinking. As the El Niño weather system continues to dissipate, the La Nina system may not be far behind, bringing with it an increased risk for hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The La Niña is the reversal of the El Niño in that there will be cooler waters and there won't be a strong jet stream over the Gulf," said Meteorologist Michael Hill of the National Weather Service in Slidell. "This could make it more conducive for hurricanes to form, but only slightly so."

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasters have issued a La Niña watch, meaning the conditions are favorable for a La Niña to form over the next six months. The current ENSO or El Niño-Southern Oscillation, is one of the strongest on record.

With the ENSO bringing a warming trend and La Niña a cooling trend, the danger could be in the neutral temperature zone. Temperatures were in the neutral zone in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of South Mississippi.

"Hurricane amnesia"

With the state in the midst of Hurricane Preparedness Week, Mississippi Emergency Management Director Executive Director Lee Smithson said the lingering threat of La Niña is one more reason for advance planning for the possibility of hurricanes.

Hurricane season begins June 1.

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"It's been more than a decade since Hurricane Katrina and we think some people may have developed hurricane amnesia," Smithson said. "The further we get away from it, the less we remember how bad it was."

Smithson said the Coast has also attracted thousands of new residents since Katrina.

"We have lots of people who have never been through a hurricane and we want to encourage them to make preparations."

He said the ways to get prepared include having an evacuation plan in place as well as putting together a kit of essential items such as water, medicine and food.

"The rule is to have enough to live on for 72 hours, but we suggest having enough food and provisions for a week, as well as gas in the car and cash in your pocket," Smithson said,

An average season

The National Hurricane Center at Colorado State University has predicted an "average season" for hurricanes this year.

"That's 12 named storms, with six of them being hurricanes," Smithson said. "But the El Niño pattern shifting into a La Niña in late August is pretty concerning.

Smithson said the Gulf Coast has also been hit by a hurricane every 10 years since 1960.

"We haven't escaped a direct-impact hurricane once every 10 years in the last 50 years, the law of averages says we're due."

More information on hurricane preparedness can be found at the MEMA website.

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