Advertisement
  1. Environment

Scientists up hurricane projections ever so slightly

From left: Lee Cathey, 37, Mayor Al Cathey, 71, and Charles Smith, 56, survey damage in the coastal township of Mexico Beach, which lay devastated after Hurricane Michael made landfall there. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Jun. 3

The likelihood of a stronger hurricane season appears to be growing.

Scientists from Colorado State University are now predicting a season with near average activity, up from a slightly lower spring forecast.

The new seasonal outlook, published Tuesday, now predicts 14 named storms, of which six are hurricanes. Forecasters warn that two of those hurricanes could be major hurricanes, which means Category 3, 4 or 5 with wind speeds at least 111 mph.

That includes Subtropical Storm Andrea, a short-lived cyclone that formed in mid May and didn't impact any land.

Officially, hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. An average season yields 12.1 named storms, 6.4 hurricanes and 2.7 major hurricanes.

The June 4 update is marginally higher than the one the Colorado State team released in early April. That forecast, one of the first seasonal outlooks published each year, predicted 13 named storms, five hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

As is often the case, the seasonal forecast is the result of weighing competing factors, said Colorado State hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. On the one hand, Atlantic Ocean temperatures have crept up, making it more conducive to hurricane development, as hurricanes feed off warm water. Yet Klotzbach predicts a weak El Nino will persist into the season, tamping down hurricanes.

El Nino is an area of warm water in the tropical Pacific Ocean. It makes for a more active season on that side of the globe; on this side, it sends strong winds across the tropical Atlantic. Those winds can sheer storms apart before they develop into dangerous cyclones, discouraging hurricane activity.

The slight increase in projected tropical activity means there's a greater likelihood Florida and the entire Atlantic coastline will be struck by a storm. The probability of a major hurricane making landfall anywhere along the continental U.S. is 54 percent, university scientists predict. During the last century, the Atlantic coastline was struck in 52 seasons.

Florida, jutting out from the North American continent like Pinocchio's nose into some of the Atlantic Ocean's warmest water, managed to dodge a hurricane landfall for 11 years. There was fear during that time that Floridians — both new residents with little hurricane experience and veterans who got complacent — wouldn't be prepared for a direct hit. Klotzbach called it "hurricane amnesia."

Not so anymore. The unprecedented streak came to an end in 2016 when Category 1 Hermine struck the Big Bend area. The following year, record-setting behemoth Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Keys as a Category 4. Last year, Category 5 Michael tore through the Panhandle as one of the strongest storms to make landfall anywhere in the country in recorded history.

Many of those affected by Hurricane Michael remain in recovery, even as this year's season has begun.

The updated forecast still sits squarely within the ranges predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the government agency under which Miami's National Hurricane Center sits. Government forecasters predict there will be nine to 15 named storms, four to eight hurricanes and two to four major hurricanes.

Administration scientists and Klotzbach disagree about whether the Atlantic remains rooted in an active era, or if it is transitioning to a quieter period. The eras, thought to be about 25 to 40 years in length, are tied to long-term trends in Atlantic water temperatures.

Klotzbach thinks the Atlantic is entering into a lesser active period. He points to cool water temperatures in the far north Atlantic, near Greenland. He said that's an indication of what the entire ocean may do in years to come.

However, Gerry Bell, a hurricane forecaster for the administration's Climate Prediction Center, said recently there's no indication the Atlantic's hurricane engine is slowing down.

Without historical perspective, it's hard to tell who's right. There haven't been several years of consistently high or low activity to serve as a clear indicator.

"The last few years are muddled in that regard," Klotzbach said.

Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. A meteor is seen streaking left to right above the constellation Orion in the early hours of Dec. 14, 2012 in the sky above Tyler, Texas.  The metor is part of the Geminid meteor shower, which is peaking tonight.  As many as 50 per hour are being seen.  The meteors radiate from the region of sky containing the constellation Gemini which give them their name.  (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman) DR. SCOTT M. LIEBERMAN  |  AP
    Considered one of “most beautiful meteor showers of the year” by NASA, the Orionids are expected to peak Monday night into Tuesday morning.
  2. Oil Sands mining operations at the Syncrude Canada Oil Sands project near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on June 13, 2017. (Photo by Larry MacDougal, © Imago via ZUMA Press) IMAGO  |  ZUMAPRESS.com
    The New York attorney general says Exxon used two sets of books and misled investors by downplaying the potential costs of carbon emissions.
  3. In this August 2019 file photo, fish killed by red tide can be seen at Pass-a-Grille beach. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE   |   Times]
    Turtle conservationists have seen seven dead Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and one dead loggerhead at Bonita Beach and Fort Myers Beach.
  4. The tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico that’s projected to strengthen as it approaches Florida could put a crimp ― or much worse ― in Tampa Bay’s weekend plans. National Hurricane Center
    The National Weather Service warns that the Gulf of Mexico disturbance could strengthen and bring wind, rain and possibly tornadoes to the bay area.
  5. Researchers from the University of Central Florida and International innovation company, Imec have developed a camera that uses specific wavelength of light to easily find pythons in habitat where they are typically well camouflaged. 
 Imec
    University of Central Florida researchers worked with Imec to develop the cameras.
  6. The Florida black bear, photographed at Nature's Classroom, is on the move these days in search of food to fatten up for a period of light hibernation in the winter. JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times (2013)
    Instead of hibernation, Florida’s black bears go into a kind of persistent lethargy for the winter, much like the winter blues humans encounter.
  7. This satellite image shows Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018, as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. It made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Panhandle as a Category 5 storm. Florida State University professor Wenyuan Fan said the storm probably created "stormquakes" offshore in the gulf, too. [Photo courtesy of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration]] NOAA
    Analysis of a decade of records shows hurricanes causing seismic activity on continental shelf
  8. This Mobil Coast gas station at 16055 State Road 52 in Land O Lakes is one of 10 cited in a Florida Department of Environmental Protection lawsuit where inspectors said they found lapses in regularly required tests, maintenance, documentation or other oversight by Brandon-based Automated Petroleum and Energy or its related companies. On Wednesday, the company said the station had already been put back in compliance with state regulations. (Photo via Google street view) Google street view
    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection contends Automated Petroleum and Energy Company failed to do required maintenance or testing at 10 gas stations in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
  9. The city of Tampa has given notice that it plans to take over the McKay Bay waste-to-energy plant shown in this 2001 photo. Tampa Bay Times
    The city has given its contractor eight months notice that it plans to take control of the facility that turns trash into energy.
  10. Port St. Lucie resident Tracy Workman photographed this extremely rare yellow cardinal recently in her backyard. Some northern cardinals have a genetic mutation that turns their normally crimson feathers yellow. Spotting one is extremely rare. Photo courtesy of Tracy Workman
    On average, there are only three reported sightings of yellow cardinals annually.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement