Scientists are in consensus: The 2018 hurricane season could be an active one.
On Thursday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its 2018 Atlantic hurricane seasonal outlook. It’s calling for between 10 and 16 named storms, five to nine hurricanes and one to four major hurricanes, which are a Category 3 or greater. HURRICANE GUIDE: Emergency information, tracking map and storm resources
Forecasters also said there is a 40 percent chance of an average season, a 35 percent chance of an above-average season and a 25 percent of a below-average season.
That means there’s a 75 percent chance the season will be at least average. An average hurricane season brings about 12 storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, on the lower end of NOAA’s predicted range.
They warned that during an active season, the Gulf coast, Atlantic coast and Caribbean are at an increased threat for hurricanes, as more will form and they’ll travel further west. Some areas, such as Puerto Rico, are still recovering from last year’s destructive season.
"We know certain areas are compromised from last year’s storms, and that makes hurricane preparedness even more important this year," said Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane season forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
The forecast come as scientists watch a storm in the Caribbean Sea that they said is likely to develop into a tropical system within days, and could grow into the season’s first named storm.
The government’s analysis matches what researchers forecasted at Colorado State University, which is also known for releasing hurricane seasonal outlooks. In their early seasonal outlook released in April, Colorado State scientists forecasted 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Also slightly above average.
One of the drivers of both forecasts is the absence of El Niño, or warmer-than-normal water in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The warm waters fuel strong winds above the tropical Atlantic Ocean, which make it difficult for storms to organize into cyclones. Without an El Niño, storms are unencumbered.
However, NOAA scientists said it’s possible a weak El Niño could form late in the season, in October or November. If that happens, and the El Niño is strong enough, "it could possibly shut down or weaken the latter part of the season," Bell said. Hurricane activity generally spikes between the end of August and the beginning of October.FORECAST: Colorado State researchers predict active 2018 hurricane season
Another factor Bell and his colleagues weighed is the water temperature in the tropical Atlantic, where most hurricanes form. Water temperatures are currently cooler than average, by about 0.5 to one degree Fahrenheit, Bell said.
But the water is expected to warm up to at least average, which would encourage hurricane development, as storms thrive off warm water. If temperatures rise markedly, and the El Nino doesn’t materialize, Bell said, that could lead to a season on the higher end of NOAA’s range.
The 2017 season was one of the top 10 most active on record, delivering 17 named storms and 10 hurricanes, six of them major. The most memorable storms, Harvey, Irma and Maria, caused a combined estimated $200 billion worth of damage to Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Those three powerful storms not only caused historic flooding, damage and misery, but may also be responsible for more than 1,000 deaths.
There’s some disagreement within the hurricane forecasting community about whether the Atlantic Ocean is in a sustained period of hyperactivity or if it’s transitioning to a quieter era. Phil Klotzbach, the lead scientist behind Colorado State’s seasonal outlook, said the salinity levels have been dropping in the northern Atlantic, indicating ocean waters could become cooler-than-average for the next several decades. That would temper hurricane development during that stretch.
Bell, though, said the Atlantic remains in an active period that began in 1995.
Regardless of the era and the season’s forecast, Bell said, those who live along the coast need to be ready. He said there are 80 million people in the U.S. who live within striking distance of a hurricane. Even a quiet season could still deliver a devastating storm. Hurricane Andrew, one of the most devastating hurricanes on record, struck Florida during the otherwise quiet 1992 storm season.
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.
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