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  1. Environment

The 2019 hurricane names are out, and it could be another busy season

Heavy surf from the approaching Hurricane Michael pounds the fishing pier on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. [Devon Ravine | Northwest Florida Daily News via Associated Press]
Published Apr. 3

Coming off two especially active hurricane seasons, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released 21 potential storm names on Wednesday ahead of 2019's season, set to begin June 1.

Though the official season will run through November, the peak season for hurricanes in the U.S. is often mid-August to mid-October. Last year, the Atlantic hurricane season had 15 named storms, with eight strong enough to be classified as hurricanes. Although it wasn't as active as the 2017 season — which produced 17 named storms with 10 hurricanes — the 2018 season was memorable for the widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael.

According to early AccuWeather predictions, released Wednesday morning, 2019 is expected to be more subtle than the past two years, but still more active than a typical season.

Read more: In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, a family looks to rebuild in a ruined town

So, how many storms will we see this year?

Forecasters predict there will be 12 to 14 storms powerful enough to be named, five to seven that'll become hurricanes and two to four that will develop into major hurricanes.

"This year, we think that there will be a few less tropical storms and lower numbers in hurricanes, but again, the old saying is 'it only takes one'," said AccuWeather forecaster Dan Kottlowski.

Major hurricanes are those that reach category 3, 4 or 5 in terms of wind strength. To put those categories in perspective, Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach as a category 4 hurricane, while Florence was a category 1.

To help predict the upcoming season, forecasters typically draw comparisons to previous years with comparable weather conditions — also known as analog years.

Forecasters say 2019's conditions bear a strong similarity with that of 1969's — the year Hurricane Camille, one of only three category 5 hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S., slammed into the coastlines of Mississippi and Alabama.

Read more: Ground zero: See the damage Hurricane Michael inflicted on Mexico Beach

Though this year's conditions are similar to 1969, forecasters say that doesn't mean there will be a category 5 storm in 2019 — it just shows that the climate pattern has the potential to produce several strong storms.

"People should not let their guard down," Kottlowski said.

Though forecasters can make early predictions for storms, one of the biggest factors in how an Atlantic hurricane season unfolds is largely dependent on whether the global climate is under the influence of El Niño, La Niña or in a neutral phase.

"If this current El Niño continues or strengthens, then the number of tropical storms and hurricanes will be near or below normal," said Kottlowski. "If the El Niño weakens and goes neutral, the number of tropical storms and hurricanes could actually be higher than normal."

Regardless of how the season pans out, Kottlowski warns that everyone living along the coast should have a hurricane plan in place.

"Now is the time to start planning. Of those people who were impacted by Florence and Michael last year, the ones who did not have plans in place had the most difficulty in dealing with the storm when it was occurring and during the recovery."

Here are the storm names for 2019, released by the NOAA:

Related: Hurricane Michael: What if it had hit Tampa Bay?

Contact Josh Fiallo at jfiallo@tampabay.com. Follow @ByJoshFiallo.

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