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Hurricane season likely near normal, climate center says

This NOAA/NASA image released May 27, 2016, shows

This NOAA/NASA image released May 27, 2016, shows infrared imagery from the GOES-East satellite of a newly formed area of low pressure centered between Bermuda and the Bahamas, possibly the first cyclone of the season. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Federal forecasters on Friday predicted a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season in 2016.

In releasing its forecast just days before the official June 1 start of when hurricanes are most likely to happen, the Climate Prediction Center, which is under the umbrella of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said, “The climate signals that influence the formation of Atlantic storms make predicting this season particularly difficult.”

At this point, with an update expected in early August, the prediction is for a total of 10 to 16 named storms, four to eight of them becoming hurricanes, with one to four of them major — that’s Category 3 or higher. That includes a major outlier for the season that technically runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 — Hurricane Alex, which formed in January over the Far Eastern Atlantic.

Still, the take-away is not just the number of storms, Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA administrator, said on a media call Friday.

“Don’t bank your course of action,” she said, on whether a season is deemed low, medium or high. Hurricanes happen annually and “one can hit or brush the coast near you.”

At the root of the uncertainty are potentially “reinforcing or competing climate influences on tropical storm development,” said Gerry Bell, the center’s lead seasonal hurricane forecaster.

One potential influence relates to long-term warmer or cooler phases of North Atlantic Ocean temperatures and their resulting impacts. The most recent warmer phase, associated with increased hurricane activity, got its start in 1995, with indicators that it could be in the process of shifting to the cooler phase, which means decreased activity.

Another influence could be the intensity and potential impacts of La Niña, a climate pattern affecting weather worldwide, and characterized by cooler temperatures in the tropical Pacific. The flip side of El Niño, which is now diminishing, La Niña has a 70 percent chance of being present in peak months of August to October and favors more activity.

In April, researchers at Colorado State University also announced their anticipation for near-average activity.

Their report, too, said not to look at this as a slam dunk. “Our predictions are our best estimate,” and there’s still “large uncertainty” at this stage. Their update is to be released on June 1.

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