Below-normal hurricane season but catastrophic storms still possible

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FLORIDA, United States, Friday May 29, 2015 – The latest forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season which officially begins next Monday has suggested will likely be below-normal, but has warned there could still be catastrophic storms.

Following an earlier forecast from Dr. Phil Klotzbach and Dr. Bill Gray at Colorado State University of only seven named storms, three hurricanes and one major hurricane at Category 3 strength or higher, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Wednesday issued a similar forecast.

The NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has predicted a 70 per cent likelihood of six to 11 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which three to six could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including zero to 2 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).

It said while a below-normal season is likely, there is also a 20 per cent chance of a near-normal season, and a 10 per cent chance of an above-normal season.

“A below-normal season doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. As we’ve seen before, below-normal seasons can still produce catastrophic impacts to communities,” said NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan, referring to the 1992 season in which only seven named storms formed yet the first, Category 5 Hurricane Andrew, devastated South Florida.

Lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with the Climate Prediction Center Gerry Bell said the main factor expected to suppress the hurricane season this year is El Niño, which is already affecting wind and pressure patterns, and is forecast to last through the hurricane season.

“El Niño may also intensify as the season progresses, and is expected to have its greatest influence during the peak months of the season. We also expect sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic to be close to normal, whereas warmer waters would have supported storm development,” Bell said.

NOAA said the development of Tropical Storm Ana before the official start of the seaon was not an indicator of the overall season strength.

It explained that Ana’s development was typical of pre-season named storms, which often form along frontal boundaries in association with a trough in the jet stream, and that method of formation differs from the named storms during the peak of the season, which originate mainly from low-pressure systems moving westward from Africa and are independent of frontal boundaries and the jet stream.

NOAA will issue an updated outlook for the Atlantic hurricane season in early August, just prior to the historical peak of the season.

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