In the last two Atlantic hurricane seasons, devastating and costly storms have struck U.S. shores, breaking out of a quieter cycle in which these tempests frequently skirted the coastline.
The 2018 hurricane season, by itself, cost the nation $50 billion, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters Thursday. 2017 produced three of the five costliest hurricanes on record: Harvey, Maria, and Irma.
In its outlook for the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is under the Commerce Department, projected a “near normal” season but warned that just one storm could have devastating impacts for coastal and nearby inland communities.
Neil Jacobs, acting NOAA administrator, told reporters the agency predicts nine to 15 named storms, four to eight of which could become hurricanes. Of those, two to four could be major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale, NOAA predicts.
An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.
Jacobs said “competing signals” for hurricane activity served as the basis for its outlook. An El Niño event is currently active in the Pacific Ocean, which introduces hostile upper-level winds in the Atlantic that deter storm development. But, on the other hand, warm ocean temperatures, which serve as fuel for hurricanes, are warmer than normal in the Atlantic and Caribbean.
Jacobs added that an enhanced African monsoon, which can trigger disturbances that turn into storms over the Atlantic, could also enhance tropical activity.
The outlook for nine to 15 storms has about a 70 percent of being right, Jacobs said. In other words, there’s a 30 percent chance hurricane season could be more or less active than NOAA’s official prediction.
Jacobs said the outlook does not project how many storms will strike land, just how many will form.
At the news conference held at Reagan National Airport, Ross, Jacobs and Daniel Kaniewski, deputy director of resilience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, all stressed that the purpose of the seasonal hurricane outlook is not so much to pin down the exact number of storms but to encourage hurricane season preparedness.
“It only takes one hurricane to create destruction for a community,” said Kaniewski.
Kaniewski urged residents in hurricane zones to stock a hurricane preparedness kit with clothes, food and medication. He also advised them to develop a plan in advance of storms, practice evacuating, follow the advice of local officials, obtain a battery-powered radio, download the FEMA wireless app, and have cash on hand when a hurricane threatens.
He stressed the importance of owning both homeowners and flood insurance. since homeowners insurance does not cover flooding. He said that uninsured Texas residents whose homes flooded during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 received just $3,000 in payouts from FEMA, compared to an average of $117,000 for residents covered by insurance providers.
Ross emphasized that inland residents, in addition to those residing at the coast, should prepare for hurricane impacts. “The greatest destruction occurs beyond the coast,” he said. Fatalities from inland flooding rival those from coastal storm surge and exceed those from wind.
Ross and Jacobs noted that continued progress in the science underpinning NOAA’s hurricane forecasts should help the nation become increasingly prepared for storms.
A five-day hurricane track is now as accurate as a two-day just a few decades ago, Ross said
For this hurricane season, NOAA plans to upgrade its flagship forecast model, the GFS, and the new, more sophisticated version is expected to improve both tropical storm track and intensity forecasts.
Jacobs said the agency’s Hurricane Hunter aircraft will also collect higher-resolution data from upgraded onboard radar systems for use by forecasters.
Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and typically peaks in August and September. However, one named storm, Andrea, already formed this year prior to the season’s official start.
NOAA’s hurricane outlook is similar to the outlook issued by Colorado State University, which calls for 13 named storms, five hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.
Last year, 15 named storms formed, including eight hurricanes, and two major hurricanes: Florence and Michael. Both of those names were retired on account of their destruction in the Carolinas and Florida.