By Danny Valentine
After back-to-back highly active Atlantic hurricane seasons, forecasters say conditions this year appear less favorable for storm development and will probably be closer to normal.
Maybe even below normal.
"This year will not be like the last two years," said Dan Kottlowski, an expert senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.com. "We're seeing changes that will basically make it more difficult for storms to form."
Hurricane forecasters at Colorado State University call for 10 named storms, including four hurricanes and two hurricanes with wind speeds of at least 111 mph. Meteorologists with AccuWeather.com forecast 12 tropical storms, including five hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
That's just about normal for the past three decades. A typical season sees 12 tropical storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center, which issues its seasonal projection in May.
But, as always, meteorologists caution strongly against thinking that a less-active season means less danger. It just takes one storm.
"You have to go into every year thinking this is the year you are going to get hit," said National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. "If you don't do that you're making a big mistake potentially."
Forecasters say conditions are less favorable for hurricane development this season, beginning June. 1.
An El Niño pattern, featuring above-normal water temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, is expected by the peak of the season, possibly sometime between July and August. The phenomenon causes upper atmospheric storms that typically inhibit tropical storm development in the Atlantic, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
By contrast, the 2010 and 2011 Atlantic hurricane seasons, which featured a La Niña pattern that favors tropical storm development, each saw 19 named storms.
Forecasters acknowledge significant doubt about when El Niño might set up.
"It's conceivable that we could revert back to a La Niña and the numbers (of tropical storms) would be a lot higher," Kottlowski said. But "most computer models are certainly showing a trend to a warmer episode in the equatorial Pacific."
In addition, sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic are also cooler than they have been in the last couple of years and are less conducive to storm development, said hurricane researcher Philip J. Klotzbach of Colorado State University. Water temperatures are about normal or slightly below normal, he said.
"If the water temperatures don't warm up that much, that would also be another negative for hurricane development," Kottlowski said.
Meteorologists also say increased wind shear and higher surface pressure will likely be present at the start of the season and make for a less conducive environment for storm development.
If the number of storms is low early in the season, the entire season will likely be lower than forecast, he said.
Bay News 9 senior meteorologist Mike Clay said this year's conditions are similar to 2001, when Gabrielle, then a powerful tropical storm, came into Manatee County and slugged the region with high winds and heavy flooding.
"Just because the numbers say it's not going to be a hyperactive season is no reason to let your guard down," he said.
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804.