While stowing away your coats and long-sleeved shirts this April, be sure to start getting your hurricane kit ready.
AccuWeather released its annual hurricane season forecast this week and its prediction is a familiar one: Conditions are favorable for the Atlantic to produce more storms than average for the seventh year in a row.
Specifically, the private meteorological organization says there will be 16 to 20 named storms this summer, with six to eight strengthening into hurricanes and three to five becoming major storms. The 30-year average for a season, meanwhile, calls for 14 named storms and three major hurricanes.
The last below-average season came in 2015, when just 11 named storms formed.
Florida’s Gulf Coast and Panhandle are at a heightened risk this year because of the location of the Bermuda high — an area of pressure in the Atlantic that can direct storms to or away from the Sunshine State, says AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski. This year, he says, the high is farther south and will steer more storms into the Gulf of Mexico, particularly in the first months of the season.
“People in Tampa Bay have had a lot of close calls but not a direct hit,” Kottlowski said. “That’s largely because of luck and, with more storms headed into the Gulf of Mexico, people there need to be ready.”
One reason Kottlowski’s team predicts an active season this year is La Niña. When present, this weather phenomenon creates favorable conditions for storms to form and strengthen in the Atlantic Ocean by limiting wind shear.
Another factor is sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean and around Florida’s coast being warmer than usual. Key West, as one example, had water temperatures between 76 and 78 degrees at the end of March, which is 1.6 to 3.8 degrees above normal, Kottlowski said. That warm water acts as fuel for hurricanes.
This year’s forecast will likely come as no surprise to seasoned Floridians. The state has historically been the most common landing spot for tropical systems, with 120 hurricanes and 37 major hurricanes making landfall here since 1851. The state with the next-most impacts, Texas, has just 64 hurricane landfalls in its history.
But Kottlowski isn’t worried about how longtime Floridians will react to hurricanes this season. Instead, he’s concerned for the thousands of new residents that have flocked to the Sunshine State and are yet to experience a major storm.
“There are people who’ve moved to Florida in the past five years who think they understand hurricane season because of the close calls,” Kottlowski said. “But being brushed by a hurricane is not the same as being in its path. I fear the close calls will create a dangerous, false sense of security.”
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Kottlowski encourages everyone to check to see if they live in a flood zone, brush up on their evacuation route and follow their county’s emergency management department on social media, especially for new residents.
The biggest threat to Tampa Bay each storm season is the possibility of a storm entering the Gulf of Mexico and curving back toward us, Kottlowski said. If a major hurricane were ever to cross the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and enter Tampa Bay, he says it would be “beyond catastrophic.”
While it’s not yet hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November, we’ve reached the time of year when storm season forecasts begin to roll in. AccuWeather was the first group to release its forecast and will soon be followed by Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration later this month.
The Climate Adaptation Center in Sarasota says it will release its annual forecast on April 15. Its lead researcher, Bob Bunting, said on Feb. 28 that he expects this season to again be more active than usual.
If there is any solace in an active-season forecast, it’s this: The 2022 forecast, if accurate, would make for a much tamer hurricane season than the last two years. Combined, the 2020 and 2021 seasons produced 51 named storms and 21 hurricanes.