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NOAA predicts below normal Atlantic hurricane season, but it only takes one!


This hurricane season may be a snoozer, but don’t get lulled to sleep.  Just one landfalling hurricane can “wreak havoc” cautioned NOAA in its Atlantic hurricane season outlook released today from Brooklyn, New York – near ground-zero for 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.

Prefacing the announcement that NOAA expects a near or below average Atlantic hurricane season, administrator Kathryn Sullivan quickly downplayed the numbers.

“Today is not about percentages and ranges,” said Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Administrator. “It needs first and foremost to be about preparedness.”

“As we saw with Sandy in 2012 and Andrew in 1992 –  a quiet season, it only takes one destructive storm to make for a very bad season on the ground,” Sullivan stressed.


Officially, NOAA is predicting 8-13 hurricanes, 3-6 hurricanes, 1-2 major hurrinaces (category 3 or higher).  These are near or below seasonal averages.

An average season produces 12 named storms, 6.5 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes.

Other forecasters have also called for a relatively lackluster season:

* Colorado State researchers Phil Klotzbach and Bill Gray predicted 9 named storms, 3 hurricanes and 1 major hurricane

* WeatherBell Analytics (Joe Bastardi)  predicted 8 to 10 named storms, 3 to 5 becoming hurricanes, and 2 major storms.

* AccuWeather predicted 10 named storms, 5 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes

* Earth Networks – WeatherBug predicted  8-12 named storms, 3-5 hurricanes, and 1-3 major hurricanes

The forecast development of El Niño is driving the strong consensus for a quieter than average season.  El Niño tends to create hostile wind shear – turning winds with altitude – that disturbs hurricane formation.

“Atmospheric and oceanic conditions across the tropical Pacific are already taking on some El Niño characteristics,” said Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead seasonal hurricane forecaster. “Also, we are currently seeing strong trade winds and wind shear over the tropical Atlantic, and NOAA’s climate models predict these conditions will persist, in part because of El Niño. The expectation of near-average Atlantic Ocean temperatures this season, rather than the above-average temperatures seen since 1995, also suggests fewer Atlantic hurricanes.”

Last year, forecasters generally predicted a busy hurricane season and it was the least active in 30 years. NOAA’s forecast probabilities suggest there’s just a 10 percent chance the “most likely” forecast is off, and that the hurricane season will turn into an active one.

As part of the outlook roll-out emphasis on preparedness, NOAA announced the launch of new flood mapping visualizations showing where storm surge could occur and how high above ground the water could reach.

“[The tool] allows users to make decisions very quickly,” said Holly Bamford, director of NOAA’s Ocean Service. “How high is the flood going to be? When is it going to show up? These visualization tools are critical for translating complex information.”

Related: National Hurricane Center gives storm surge modeling a major boost | National Hurricane Center plans new storm surge warnings starting in 2015

Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, highlighted improvements to the weather prediction models vital to forecasting the track and intensity of tropical storms, including:

* Doubling the resolution of NOAA’s Global Forecast System (GFS) model by the end of the summer. In hindsight tests, this amped up version of the GFS predicted Sandy’s erratic, westward turn towards New Jersey 7 days in advance, in contrast to the version of the model in 2012 which forecast it would go out to sea.

* An improved version of the HWRF model – a specialized model for hurricane forecasting – which will assimilate new doppler radar data from the tail of hurricane hunter aircraft. An experimental version of this model did “an incredible job” in forecasting the track and rapid intensification of storms in the South Pacific last year, Uccellini said.

Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and ends November 30.

Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.
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