The most frequently asked question I get is “what kind of a hurricane season are we going to have this year?” I don’t make seasonal forecasts, but yesterday NOAA released its Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook saying that a near-normal season is most likely. NOAA’s scientists call for a 70 percent chance of having nine to 14 named storms, of which four to seven could become hurricanes, including one to three major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5).
NOAA wisely went to great lengths to make it clear that the seasonal outlook does not forecast where and when any of the storms will hit.
NOAA notes that the sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Atlantic are currently cooler than average. The NOAA outlook reflects the likelihood of below- to near-normal SSTs in the eastern tropical Atlantic during the peak of the hurricane season. It should be noted that August/September/October sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Atlantic have not been below average since 1997. Cooler SSTs in that region are typically associated with a reduction in Atlantic hurricane activity. The figure below shows the sea surface temperature anomalies in the Atlantic currently posted on the NOAA web site.
The numbers in the NOAA outlook bracket those from the Phil Klotzbach/Bill Gray outlook issued on April 7, 2009 that called for 12 named storms, of which six will be hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. Long term averages (1957-2006) from the National Hurricane Center are 11 named storms, six hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes.
Hopefully, South Florida residents have learned the lesson that it is not all about numbers. In 1992 we had only six tropical storms of which four were hurricanes. Number-wise, that was certainly a below normal year. But residents of South Florida who experienced Hurricane Andrew will never forget the impact on their lives from that Category 5 hurricane.
Don’t link preparedness efforts to seasonal forecasts. We need to be prepared no matter what the seasonal forecasts are – especially if we live in hurricane vulnerable South Florida.