The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a 75 per cent chance that the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, which begins on Friday, will be near- or above-normal.
They also predict a 35 per cent chance of an above-normal season, a 40 per cent chance of a near-normal season, and a 25 per cent chance of a below-normal season for the upcoming hurricane season, which extends from June 1 to November 30.
NOAA’s forecasters says there is a 70 per cent likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which five to nine could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including one to four major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher). An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes including three major hurricanes.
The NOAA will update the 2018 Atlantic seasonal outlook in early August, just before the peak of the season.
Even before the official start of the season, however, one storm – Alberto – formed last Friday. It dumped heavy rains in Cuba. The flooding in central Cuba caused by torrential rainfall in the wake of Alberto, killed four people and prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands.
After rain dumped more than four inches of water in 24 hours, flood waters swept away a bridge and damaged roads and other infrastructure, leaving many communities cut off and nearly 60,000 people without electricity.
Alberto subsequently weakened into a tropical depression after making landfall in the south of the United States.
El Niño pattern could make for fewer storms
The 2017 season was very active, in part, because of a weak La Niña that developed during the six-month hurricane season that ends December 1.
La Niña is a naturally occurring phenomenon characterized by cooler than normal water in the eastern Pacific equatorial region. While La Niña occurs in the Pacific Ocean, it has a widespread impact on the global climate. That includes decreased wind shear across the tropical Atlantic, which creates favorable conditions for tropical development.
But La Niña has since disappeared, making way for what are now “ENSO-neutral conditions” — meaning neither La Niña nor its opposite, El Niño, is present — according to Gerry Bell, lead hurricane season forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
“The models are suggesting that El Niño could possibly develop later in the season,” Bell said.
El Niño features warmer water in the eastern Pacific equatorial region, creating greater wind shear in the Atlantic, and thus, fewer tropical storms.
If El Niño does develop by October, “it could possibly shut down or weaken the latter part of the season,” he added..
But that is certainly no guarantee. And if El Niño fails to make an appearance, Bell warned, “We could certainly see the seasonal activity near the higher-end of the predicted range.”
Other 2018 forecasts
Beyond the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, dubbed NOAA, most meteorologists agree that the 2018 season will be near or above average.
Colorado State University, among the most well-regarded forecasting institutions, has predicted 14 named storms, with seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. It will update its forecast,issued last month, on May 31.
The Weather Company predicts slightly less activity than Colorado State. It forecasts a season that’s near average, with 12 named storms, including five hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
Meantime, North Carolina State University researchers expect 14 to 18 named storms, with seven to 11 hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes.