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Watch out Florida: Forecasters predict active 2018 hurricane season

Hurricane Irma moves towards the Florida coast as a Category 4 storm in the Caribbean Sea in September 2017. It's time to start getting ready for the 2018 hurricane season, and the first forecast from Colorado State University calls for an above-average storm season. [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via the New York Times]
Published Apr. 5, 2018

Conditions are ripe for an above average number of hurricanes in 2018, a year after one of the most devastating seasons on record.

Researchers at Colorado State University predict 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes, packing sustained winds of at least 111 mph. A typical season sees 12 named storms, 6.5 hurricanes and two majors

An active season does not mean that any particular location will get hit, but it raises the chances. Florida has suffered direct hits from hurricanes two years in a row, and another strong season would suggest the Atlantic Ocean remains in a period of hyperactivity.

RELATED: Hurricane Irma devastates Florida Keys

The CSU Department of Atmospheric Science Tropical Meteorology Project's forecast released Thursday also calls for 70 days during which a named storm will be present, 30 hurricane days and seven major hurricane days. Median seasons see about 60 named storm days, 21 hurricane days and four major hurricane days.

Colorado State's April forecast is traditionally one of the first looks at the upcoming Atlantic storm season. As the June 1 official start of hurricane season draws closer, researchers will develop more detailed outlooks, which they also update during the season.

The last few years, Atlantic waters have started the year colder than normal but have significantly warmed in the spring and summer, said CSU research scientist and forecast lead author Phil Klotzbach. If the trend continues this year, the warm waters can help fuel another active season.

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In addition, Pacific waters are cold and forecasted to remain relatively cool, which limits the possibility of a strong El Niño. El Niños, and their high-altitude winds, can rip apart storms before they can do much damage.

"If you look at how cold it is in the Pacific right now, there's just not enough time to get a real strong El Niño," Klotzbach said.

HURRICANE GUIDE: Emergency information, tracking map and storm resources

Last year's season was a top 10 hurricane season by nearly every metric, Klotzbach said. Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas, killed 68 people and wreaked an estimated $125 billion in damage, according to the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane Irma, which hit the Caribbean before marching up Florida's spine, killed 44 people and caused more than $50 billion in damage, the NHC said. Government figures were not yet available for Hurricane Maria, which decimated Puerto Rico, though some estimates put the death toll at more than 1,000.

Klotzbach warned Floridians not to get a false sense of security after Irma, which was at one time the strongest storm ever recorded in the open Atlantic Ocean but caused significantly less damage than experts feared. It hit Cuba before Florida, which weakened the storm. The next storm might find a clear path.

"All that water that got blown out of Tampa Bay, it came back at a nice sedate pace" because the south side of the storm had weakened, Klotzbach said. "Don't think that the next time it's necessarily going to do that."

Hurricane season ends Nov. 30.

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

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