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Hurricane outlook: Remain vigilant despite expected below-average activity, forecasters warn

This satellite image shows Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018, as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. It is forecast to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle as a Category 3 storm. [NOAA]
Published Apr. 5

From the Florida Panhandle to the Caribbean Sea, communities are still recovering from year after year of devastating hurricanes while researchers are already looking to what's next.

Early indicators point to a below-average Atlantic hurricane season, according to an annual report from Colorado State University. Researchers, however, warn those in coastal areas should remain prepared following consecutive years of catastrophically damaging hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.

"As is the case with all hurricane seasons, coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them," researchers wrote.

The Colorado State University Department of Atmospheric Science Tropical Meteorology on Thursday released the report, which is traditionally one of the earliest predictors of the coming season.

RELATED: Hurricane Michael aftermath: In a ruined town, family looks to rebuild the Driftwood Inn

Researchers predict 13 named storms, five hurricanes and two major hurricanes for 2019. The average is 12.1 named storms, 6.4 hurricanes and 2.7 major hurricanes, which are storms with sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

The report also predicts 50 days of named storms, 16 hurricane days and four major hurricane days. The average numbers are 59.4, 24.2 and 6.2, respectively.

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

Phil Klotzbach, a Colorado State researcher and one of the report's lead authors, said cool waters in the Atlantic and an El Niño in the Pacific are setting the conditions for limited activity. Warm water in the Atlantic, he said, acts as fuel for building storms crossing the ocean. Currently, the tropical Atlantic is cooler than normal and the North Atlantic is "anomalously" cool, meaning approaching storms may not have the chance to strengthen as they enter the Caribbean and Gulf. Klotzbach added that cold Atlantic waters generally reflect warming trends around the globe.

"Temperatures in the far North Atlantic tend to go opposite of the rest of the globe," he said. "So when the far North Atlantic is cold, the rest of the globe actually tends to be warmer."

The main factor though, is the current El Niño pattern of warm Pacific waters and upper-level energy.

"The El Niño is the biggest factor in the prediction," Klotzbach said. "When you have an El Niño, it tends to have upper level winds that then tear apart hurricanes in the Atlantic."

According to the report, there's generally a 31 percent chance the Florida peninsula will get hit with a major hurricane, going back 100 years. This year that chance is around 28 percent. However, researchers press that just one hurricane can have monumental impact on a given area and their report is no way to predict landfall.

For about a decade, Klotzbach said, Florida and the gulf got lucky when it came to hurricane damage. But that luck has changed, particularly in the last few years as communities still reel from Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017 and the Category 4 Michael in 2018, the most powerful storm recorded to hit the Panhandle.

RELATED: Puerto Rico hurricane then and now

"The last couple of years Florida has obviously gotten smacked," he said. "(Michael was) the strongest hurricane anyone alive on the Panhandle has experienced."

People can tend to get lax with preparedness, Klotzbach said. However, with population growth and accumulated wealth along coastal areas, hurricanes are inflicting more damage than ever before by virtue of there being more things to damage, he added.

Regardless of predictions, he said, "follow the instructions of your local emergency management and stay prepared."

Hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

Colorado State will issue an update report in early June.

Contact Daniel Figueroa IV at dfigueroa@tampabay.com. Follow @danuscripts.

2019 hurricane names

Andrea

Barry

Chantal

Dorian

Erin

Fernand

Gabrielle

Humberto

Imelda

Jerry

Karen

Lorenzo

Melissa

Nestor

Olga

Pablo

Rebekah

Sebastien

Tanya

Van

Wendy

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. 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
  2. Tropical depression 15 has formed in the eastern Atlantic. National Weather Service
    The newly formed system joins a tropical wave off the coast of South America.
  3. Peggy Wood, center, attends a community announcement with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, in Mexico Beach in September. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Wood family presses forward with plans to rebuild the Driftwood Inn amid a changing town.
  4.  Mexico Beach, one year anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Michael. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
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  5. Meteorologists are keeping watch on a system in the mid-Atlantic that could develop into a tropical storm sometime in the next two days. A system off the eastern coast of Florida will bring heavy rainfall to the state before moving to the east, north of the Bahamas. National Weather Service
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  6. The National Hurricane center National Hurricane Service
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  7. The endangered torreya tree at the Gregory House at Torreya State Park north of Bristol. Special to the Times
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  8. In this Sept. 16, 2019 photo, Remelda Thomas bows her head in prayer in her home in McLean's Town Cay, Grand Bahamas Island, Bahamas. Thomas said she lost eight family members in the storm. While sleeping one night after the storm the wind was blowing and the tarp over the hole in her roof was snapping and it brought back the fear from Hurricane Dorian. CHRIS DAY  |  AP
    Dorian mustered massive strength over warm waters and lashed the Bahamas for almost 40 hours. The ocean roared ashore and swelled 20 feet high.
  9. Siesta Key Oyster Bar pulled $15,000 off its walls to help aid victims of Hurricane Dorian. Facebook
    Siesta Key Oyster Bar also joined three other Siesta Key Village businesses in raising another $10,000 during a separate fundraiser.
  10. Oct. 2• Hurricane
    Hurricane Lorenzo is expected to begin impacting Ireland in the next 24 hours. Forecasters estimate that the British Isles could see 90 mile-per-hour winds. National Weather Service
    The latest forecast shows strong winds are on the way for the British Isles.
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