Federal meteorologists are now expecting a busier hurricane season than first predicted earlier this year.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released an updated hurricane outlook Thursday ahead of what are typically peak months for tropical activity, and increased its chance of an above-normal season.
In their mid-season update, federal forecasters announced they are anticipating 14 to 21 named storms, of which six to 11 will become hurricanes and two to five will reach major hurricane strength. Major hurricanes have sustained winds of 111 mph or greater.
Forecasters now predict a 60% chance of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season (up from a 30% chance predicted in May), a 25% chance of near-normal activity, and a 15% chance of a below-normal season.
Meteorologists believe the scorching, record-breaking Atlantic sea surface temperatures are enough to “counterbalance” the ongoing El Niño, which typically weakens hurricanes.
The June and July sea surface temperatures in the main storm development region of the North Atlantic Ocean were the warmest on record since documentation began in 1950. Temperatures in those months ran about 1.2 degrees Celsius above normal, said Matthew Rosencrans, the lead hurricane season outlook forecaster at the agency.
Those warm waters likely helped two tropical storms, Bret and Cindy, form in the deep tropics in June.
“Typically, El Niño-related changes to the atmosphere inhibit tropical activity in the Atlantic, especially in the western Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. But this year, the changes typically associated with El Niño appear to be emerging a bit later than initially anticipated,” Rosencrans said.
“A lot of the predictions from May did not forecast the continuation of record-warm sea surface temperatures,” he said.
The administration said it has a 70% confidence in its forecast.
To date, there have been five named storms this season: A January subtropical storm that is formally named Unnamed; Tropical Storm Arlene, which waffled in the Gulf of Mexico in early June; then tropical storms Bret and Cindy, which both flared up in the Atlantic toward the end of that month. Don was the first hurricane of the season, churning in the middle of the Atlantic in mid-July.
Ahead of the hurricane season in May, forecasters predicted a 40% chance of a near-normal season.
There were 14 named storms during last year’s hurricane season. That’s the lower end of the range for this year’s updated outlook, which now calls for up to 21 named storms, Rosencrans said.
There were 21 named storms in 2021, and a whopping 30 in 2020, which became the busiest year on record for tropical activity. All three years occurred during La Niña, which typically increases tropical activity in the Atlantic.
”We’ve seen some pretty busy years recently,” Rosencrans said.
For now, though, all is quiet in the Atlantic basin.
There’s no sign of tropical cyclone formation over the next seven days in the North Atlantic, Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, according to a Thursday morning tropical weather outlook from the National Hurricane Center.
That’s good news for anyone who needs extra time to nail down a hurricane plan ahead of the peak of the season in September. Historically, about 90% of all tropical storm activity occurs in the Atlantic during the season’s peak months, so now is the time to prepare for a future storm, Rosencrans said.
“Thinking those things through now, getting some supplies now is much easier than when there’s a rush on supplies in the last couple of days, when you’re under a time crunch to make decisions,” he said.
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