In its 2014 Atlantic hurricane season outlook issued today, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a near-normal or below-normal season.
NOAA said the main driver of this year’s outlook is the anticipated development of El Niño this summer. El Niño causes stronger wind shear, which reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes. El Niño can also strengthen the trade winds and increase the atmospheric stability across the tropical Atlantic, making it more difficult for cloud systems coming off of Africa to intensify into tropical storms.
The NOAA Atlantic outlook calls for a 50 percent chance of a below-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season.
For the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA predicts a 70 percent likelihood of 8 to 13 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 3 to 6 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 1 to 2 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).
These numbers are near or below the seasonal averages of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, based on the average from 1981 to 2010. The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
(Colorado State University researchers have predicted a low activity season, with nine named storms, with three of them growing into hurricanes and one becoming a major storm. They also cited El Nino as a reason behind their forecast for a quiet season.)
Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA administrator, said that even though NOAA expects El Niño to suppress the number of storms this season, “it’s important to remember it takes only one land falling storm to cause a disaster.”
Humberto was the first of only two Atlantic hurricanes in 2013. It reached peak intensity, with top winds of 90 mph, in the far eastern Atlantic.
Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said the Atlantic – which has seen above-normal seasons in 12 of the last 20 years – has been in an era of high activity for hurricanes since 1995. However, this high-activity pattern is expected to be offset in 2014 by the impacts of El Niño, and by cooler Atlantic Ocean temperatures than we’ve seen in recent years.
“Atmospheric and oceanic conditions across the tropical Pacific are already taking on some El Niño characteristics. 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,” Bell said. “The expectation of near-average Atlantic Ocean temperatures this season, rather than the above-average temperatures seen since 1995, also suggests fewer Atlantic hurricanes.”
NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center announced that climate conditions point to a near-normal or above-normal season in the Central Pacific Basin and the Eastern Pacific this year.
NOAA is rolling out new tools at the National Hurricane Center this year, one of which is an experimental mapping tool that will be used to show communities their storm surge flood threat. The map will be issued for coastal areas when a hurricane or tropical storm watch is first issued, or approximately 48 hours before the anticipated onset of tropical storm force winds. The map will show land areas where storm surge could occur and how high above ground the water could reach in those areas.
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