SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – This year’s June 1- Nov. 30 hurricane season should produce fewer storms than average, Phil Klotzbach told the National Tropical Weather Conference on Thursday.
The forecast is for a total of 9 named storms to form with 3 of them growing into hurricanes. Only 1 is expected to become a major hurricane (category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale).
An average season produces 12 named storms, 6.5 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes.
“The die is cast for a moderate to strong El Niño this year,” he said.
El Niño refers to warmer than average water in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which affects global weather patterns. These changes included faster-than-usual high-altitude winds over the tropical Atlantic Ocean that can rip apart growing storms.
Related: Bet on El Niño, says NOAA
Klotzbach, who is a research scientist at Colorado State University, has worked since 2000 with Bill Gray, who began making and publicizing seasonal hurricane forecasts in the 1980s.
He said that in addition to the good odds for a strong El Niño to form this year, the tropical Atlantic Ocean is now “quite cool,” which would hamper hurricane formation if it continues.
Nevertheless, he cautioned, “In early April there is quite a lot of uncertainty” in seasonal forecasts.
Gray pioneered seasonal hurricane forecasts by finding various atmospheric features in the spring, early summer, and even further in advance that showed statistical correlations with the number of storms during a forthcoming season.
But, he cautioned, “some predictions worked well for 20 to 30 years and then fell apart.”
In practical terms, this year’s forecast for a “light” season does not mean those living along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean coasts should let down their guard.
Klotzbach noted that the 1992 hurricane season had few storms, but these few included Andrew that devastated large areas of Dade County, Fla., after it hit as the third strongest storm on record as hitting the U.S.
Earlier this week WeatherBELL Analytics released its seasonal hurricane forecast, which also calls for a below-normal with 8 to 10 tropical storms, 3 to 5 becoming hurricanes, and 2 growing into major storms.
ImpactWeather’s Chris Hebert is forecasting 10 named storms and 4 hurricanes, notes Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle.
The National Weather Service will issue its hurricane outlook in May.