How many hurricanes will form this summer? The government has a forecast

 

The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1 and you can expect between five to nine hurricanes to form, which is a little above the average according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Forecasters with NOAA, which just released its official hurricane forecast, “predict a 70 percent likelihood of 11 to 17 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 5 to 9 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 2 to 4 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher),” according to a statement posted on the NOAA web site.

The forecast includes Tropical Storm Arlene, which formed unusually early in April.

The average hurricane season has 12 named storms, six of which become hurricanes, and three of which become major ones. The 2016 season was the most active since 2012, which had 15 named storms, including 7 hurricanes and 4 major ones.

Hurricanes can devastate the Gulf region, as Katrina, Rita and Ike did in years past, but they tend not to hit Central Texas in the same way. Here, the worry tends to be storms that spin off the periphery of hurricanes. Those storms can, in turn, lead to high winds, tornadoes and heavy rainfall that causes the top weather risk in the region: flooding.

The hurricane forecast calls for a 45 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 35 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 20 percent chance of a below-normal season.

“The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Niño, near- or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region,” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said in the statement.

As to one of the key questions – whether a hurricane will devastate any coastal communities – the forecast is silent. After all, as a wise man once said, predictions are difficult, especially about the future.

 

El Niño’s return could mean a relatively calm hurricane season, wetter-than-normal Austin weather

 

This hurricane season is likely to be a relatively calm one, thanks to the return of everyone’s favorite weather pattern: El Niño.

Forecasters with AccuWeather are predicting 10 named storms, with five projected to become hurricanes. An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms.

“The big factor is going to be the fact that we now believe El Niño will come on board some time during the summer and will continue all the way through the rest of the hurricane season,” AccuWeather meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said in a statement this week.

Other hurricane projections are set to follow soon: one from Colorado State University, the other from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration some time in May.

According to AccuWeather, an El Niño – a weather phenomenon that includes warmer-than-normal surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific – “typically causes episodes of strong westerly winds in the tropical Atlantic, which inhibit the development of storms.”

AccuWeather is forecasting that the El Niño is likely to materialize in late summer or fall. In Central Texas, that would probably mean cooler and wetter weather. El Niño is not the only weather pattern to affect Central Texas, but it does tend to make things a bit rainier.

In 2015, the “Godzilla El Niño” that developed in the fall drove the second-wettest year on record. That El Niño gave way to a La Niña, which is basically El Niño’s bizarro twin – cooler equatorial Pacific waters resulting in warmer and drier Central Texas weather. Even as La Niña was fading, it ushered in the warmest winter and warmest three-month start to a year on record in Austin.

Don’t expect El Niño to cool things down much in the near future. But if it does materialize, and it does wrestle hurricane season to a standstill, expect to see a lot more of this:

Hurricane season means increased flood risk — even in Austin

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In a little more than a week, the Atlantic hurricane season will start, stretching from June 1 to Nov. 30. Government officials are worried that people will not take it seriously enough — especially in places such as Central Texas.

A hurricane that makes landfall will not hit the Austin area, of course. But hurricanes that reach the Houston area or Louisiana coast do tend to send off tendrils that can soak Central Texas, exacerbating the ever-present risk of flooding in this region of rocky terrain, thin soils and a propensity for downpours.

This summer that risk has been further heightened by the last half-year of rainy weather. The soil is already saturated.

A week ago, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to emphasize this point by holding a kickoff for Hurricane Awareness Week in San Antonio. Normally, such events happen in coastal communities. Why not keep the focus on the communities most at risk? Because San Antonio, like Austin, is prone to flash flooding, and sees that threat increased when hurricanes approach the coast.

“The inland flooding threat here is very significant,” said Dan Brown, a meteorologist and warning coordinator with the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.

Various forecasts are calling for a hurricane season that could bring the typical 12 named storms, or could bring significantly more than that. The official government forecast is coming out this week. But the federal weather officials in San Antonio last week brushed aside speculation about how active this hurricane season will be. They argue there is little correlation between the number of storms that appear in a season and the major question: whether one of those hurricanes will make landfall.

“Those (forecasts) have no bearing on whether (hurricanes) will make landfall or not,” said Steven Cooper, acting director of the National Weather Service’s southern region. “And it only takes one.”

Last year, he said, Tropical Storm Bill produced flooding hundreds of miles from Matagorda Island, where it made landfall.

Cooper also noted that hurricanes increase the risk of tornadoes. They are not generally a major threat in Central Texas. But in 1980s, Hurricane Aiden spun off storms as it began to dissipate, and one of those storms caused a tornado that hit what was then Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, according to the Weather Service. The tornado caused $250 million in damage.


The Weather Service and other government agencies offered the following advice to people to prepare for hurricanes (or other severe weather):

• Check your flood insurance. And then check that against the flood hazard information available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

• Create a family communication plan. Know how you’re all going to get ahold of one another, particularly if high winds knock out cell towers.

• Keep emergency supplies. That’s things like flashlights, batteries, bottled water, canned food. Remember, it doesn’t make you a survivalist unless you keep them in your fallout shelter.

• Remember that if you have pets, you will probably also have to care for their well-being.

• Know the evacuation routes in your community.

• Listen to local officials. And have a means, such as a NOAA weather radio, of doing so.

Don’t panic.