Two conflicting factors are steering the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season: balmy ocean waters and a likely El Niño. But just where the season will take us is uncertain.
Federal meteorologists are predicting the presence of the dueling tropical elements will mean a near-normal hurricane season this year.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday it is predicting 12 to 17 named storms, of which five to nine will become hurricanes and one to four will reach major hurricane strength. Major hurricanes have sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater.
Forecasters predict a 40% chance of a near-normal season, a 30% chance of an above normal season and 30% chance of a below normal season.
“It’s time to prepare,” said Rick Spinrad, the NOAA administrator. “Remember: It only takes one storm that devastates a community ... If one of those named storms is hitting your home, your community, it’s very serious.”
The outlook released Thursday doesn’t identify specific locations where storms might make landfall, or which regions of the Atlantic basins are more likely to see a tropical cyclone. It also doesn’t identify when in the season a storm is expected to form. Overall, it’s a broad forecast that looks at the hurricane season as a whole.
NOAA has a 70% confidence in this year’s forecast, the agency said.
The outlook reflects a couple of dueling factors that either suppress storm activity or fuel it.
NOAA scientists expect El Niño conditions will develop in the next couple of months, which can suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic. Forecasters says there is about a 55% chance that a strong El Niño will take over.
However, El Niño could be offset by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea, which helps storms to develop.
In mid-April, forecasters at Colorado State University called for a “slightly below-average” hurricane season this year.
The university’s renowned tropical weather and climate research team based its initial outlook on the same conflicting factors: the possibility for a strong El Niño, when a bolstered jet stream could erode strong hurricanes, and an “anomalously warm” Atlantic. Meteorologists there predicted 13 named storms, of which six will become hurricanes and two will reach major hurricane strength. The team plans to update its forecast in June.
Regardless of what the outlook says, weather experts continue to drive home that all it takes is one storm to uproot your life. In the early days of hurricane season, pay less attention to the tropical weather forecasts and more attention to how you can prepare for a potential cyclone.
Federal emergency managers also shared advice on how to prepare for hurricane season’s official start, one week away.
“Regardless of the time of year, whether we’re in the peak of hurricane season or not, it just takes one,” said Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “That means we do need to prepare today.”
Criswell said there are three things you can do today to prepare for a hurricane: Know your risk, know how you’re going to find crucial storm information, and make an emergency plan.
”Hurricanes are more than just the cone we see. They are storm surge. They are significant rainfall. They are carbon monoxide after. You need to know what your risk is,” Criswell said. “It is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”
The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, but meteorologists are quick to remind the public that tropical cyclones can form both before and after those dates. Storms can also form on the bookends of the hurricane season: Last year’s Hurricane Nicole made landfall on Florida’s Atlantic coast as a Category 1 storm — just 20 days before the end of the season.
Thursday’s forecast applies to the Atlantic basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, according to NOAA.
An average hurricane season, federal meteorologists say, has 14 named storms, of which seven become hurricanes and three reach major hurricane status. Last year was considered an average season, coming off the heels of two of the most active years in history in 2020 and 2021.
The World Meteorological Organization retired the storm names Ian and Fiona after both storms in 2022 caused billions of dollars in damage in Southwest Florida and Puerto Rico and claimed nearly 200 lives combined.
Next month, NOAA is launching a new hurricane model, called the Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System, which could have up to a 15% improvement in track and intensity forecasts over existing storm models, Spinrad said. It’s expected to roll out in late June.
Based on a 30-year climate record from 1991 to 2020, the first named storm usually forms in mid-to-late June, while the first hurricane forms in mid-August and the first major hurricane in late August or early September, according to the NOAA.
Meteorologists consider Sept. 10 to be the peak of hurricane season.
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Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change
PART 1: The Tampa Bay Times partnered with the National Hurricane Center for a revealing look at future storms.
PART 2: Even weak hurricanes can cause huge storm surges. Experts say people don’t understand the risk.
PART 3: Tampa Bay has huge flood risk. What should we do about it?
INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.