It may seem just too surreal to start thinking of the upcoming hurricane season.
There’s April snow on the horizon for Long Island, and parts of the southeastern United States and Caribbean are still trying to recover from last year’s parade of major tropical storms.
Still, Colorado State University released its first of several outlook reports Thursday, this one anticipating slightly above-average activity for this year’s Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
But the researchers expect fewer than last year’s 10 hurricanes, six of which went on to become major.
This year’s early prediction is for 14 named storms, seven of them becoming hurricanes, and three of them becoming major, which means Category 3 or higher, based on wind speeds. That’s just above the long-term average of 12 named storms, 6.5 of them hurricanes, with two of them major, the report said.
But coastal residents should prepare the same every season, no matter how much activity is expected, said report authors Philip J. Klotzbach and Michael M. Bell.
“It only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them,” they said.
“They should prepare the same for every season, regardless of how much activity is predicted.”
Long Island was pretty much spared last year — which marked the fifth anniversary of superstorm Sandy — though areas of the South Shore and East End in September did experience high surf, coastal flooding and dune erosion from what had been Hurricane Jose, which lingered for days just to the southeast.
Still, the Island has seen 19 direct or very close hits since 1900, Klotzbach said. One of them would be the Long Island Express, a Category 3 that took the Island by surprise, slamming into Suffolk County 80 years ago, on Sept. 21, 1938.
Of course, the Island has also been significantly impacted by hurricanes that made landfall farther away, with 2012’s Sandy, which transitioned to a post-tropical cyclone, among them.
Much this year ultimately depends on whether El Niño conditions develop, as that climate pattern, signaled by warming sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific, brings about upper level winds in the Caribbean and Atlantic that tear storms apart as they start forming.
Colorado State researchers said at this point they did not anticipate a “significant El Niño event” this summer into fall.
Also, sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Atlantic are slightly cooler than normal and so they “provide less fuel for tropical cyclone formation and intensification,” they said.
However, the authors say there is considerable uncertainty regarding what those temperatures will be during the peak of the season, which the National Hurricane Center says runs from mid-August to late October.
Klotzbach, a research scientist, last year in a season wrap-up pointed to “the record-breaking levels of hurricane activity” that occurred in late August and September, with Harvey, Irma and Maria, “the most notable storms of 2017, leaving paths of death and destruction in their wake.”
The next Colorado State updates are planned for May 31, July 2 and Aug. 2, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issuing its first outlook in late May.