It’s unanimous: NOAA calls for very active hurricane season, joining other forecasters

Hurricane Sandy (NOAA)
Hurricane Sandy (NOAA)

Prior to today’s release of NOAA’s hurricane outlook today, at least 8 independent groups had called for an active to extremely active Atlantic hurricane season.  NOAA joined the chorus today, becoming the 9th group to forecast a busy year for hurricanes.

Related: Four groups predict very active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season

Its outlook calls for 13-20 named storms, 7-11 of which will become hurricanes, and 3-6 major hurricanes (category 3 or higher). (The 1981-2010 30-year averages are 12.1 named storms, 6.4 hurricanes, and 2.7 major hurricanes.)

“There are no mitigating factors that would suppress the activity,” said Gerry Bell, lead outlook forecaster.  “El Nino is not expected to develop this year.  All factors point to an active or very active hurricane season.”

Hurricane season spans June 1 to November 30. Factors in favor of a busy season include above average Atlantic and Caribbean ocean temperatures, lower than average pressures and wind shear, and a present multi-decadal pattern of elevated hurricane activity that commenced in 1995 (and expected to last 25-40 years) according to acting NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan, who unveiled the outlook.

NOAA’s main climate models also predict an active season, Sullivan said.

Overall, NOAA’s outlook calls for a 70 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 25 percent chance of a near-normal season, and just a 5 percent chance of a below-normal activity.

Will storms hit land?

Although some private forecast companies try to pinpoint sections of the coastline that might be susceptible to hurricane strikes weeks to months in advance,  Sullivan said NOAA doesn’t make landfall forecasts.

“It cannot be done,” she said.

The U.S. hasn’t experienced landfall from a major hurricane since  Wilma on October 24, 2005 – that longest major hurricane drought on record. Bell explained low pressure at high altitudes near the East Coast had kept storms offshore the last several years and reinforced Sullivan’s point that preseason landfall forecasts are not reliable.

However, in its online materials, NOAA notes: “…the historical likelihood for multiple U.S. hurricane strikes, and for multiple hurricane strikes in the region around the Caribbean Sea, increases sharply for very active (or hyperactive) seasons.”

Related link: How accurate are pre-season hurricane landfall forecasts?

Improvement in forecasts expected

As part of the outlook release, NOAA’s Sullivan described upgrades to NOAA’s prediction technologies that should improve forecasts once storms start to form. These includes upgrades to its supercomputers running hurricane models, and enhanced data.

Specifically, data from a doppler radar aboard Hurricane Hunter aircraft will feed into forecast models for the first time.

“Injection of aircraft of data into real-time models may improve forecasts by 10-15 percent,” Sullivan said.

Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, noted this data should make notable improvements in intensity forecasts, which historically have been less accurate than track forecasts.

A message of preparedness

Irrespective of how many storms form, it just takes one to have major consequences on life and property – officials stress this point every year.

NOAA’s Sullivan emphasized the importance of storm readiness for families, communities, and businesses, as did officials from FEMA.

“Preparedness today can make a big difference down the line, so update your family emergency plan and make sure your emergency kit is stocked,” said Joe Nimmich, FEMA associate administrator for Response and Recovery.

Other forecasts

Here are the forecasts for hurricane activity from other groups…

Colorado State: 18 named storms, 9 hurricanes, 4 major hurricanes

WeatherBell (Joe Bastardi): 16 named storms, 12 hurricanes, 5 major hurricanes

NC State: 13-17 named storms, 7-10 hurricanes, 3-6 major hurricanes

TropicalStormRisk.com: 15 named storms, 7.5 hurricanes, 3.4 major hurricanes

AccuWeather: 16 named storms, 8 hurricanes, 4 major hurricanes

Penn State: 16 named storms (range 12-20)

Institute of Meteorology, Cuba: 17 named storms, 9 hurricanes

UK Met Office: 14 named storms (range 10-18), 9 hurricanes

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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Jason Samenow · May 23, 2013