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Atlantic hurricane season expected to be below average, say experts

Having bid goodbye to a cold and snowy winter, we turn attention to this year's Atlantic hurricane season.

One prediction -- called a "best estimate" by researchers -- is for a below-average season, with nine named tropical storms, three expected to become hurricanes, with one of those reaching category 3, 4 or 5 level. The average for the season that runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 is 12 named storms, 6.5 hurricanes and two reaching category 3 or greater strength, said Colorado State University researchers who are making this call.

"The tropical Atlantic has anomalously cooled over the past several months, and the chances of a moderate to strong El Niño event this summer and fall appear to be quite high," Klotzbach said. "Historical data indicate fewer storms form in these conditions."

There's more than a 50 percent likelihood of an El Niño developing in the summer, up to 63 percent for fall, still with "considerable uncertainty" as to intensity, according to a report also released Thursday by the Climate Prediction Center and International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

At its simplest, El Niño involves a warming of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific that can cause changes in weather patterns elsewhere, said Jessica L. Spaccio, climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center in Ithaca. Depending on its intensity, as well as shorter-term factors, it could possibly lead to a warmer, drier winter in the Northeast, as well as that below-average hurricane season, she said.

As for the Colorado State prediction, it's "not an exact measure," the researchers said. Indeed, their prediction last year for an "above average" season missed the mark, as did that of other forecasters.

Last year's prediction bust, Klotzbach said, can probably be traced back to an unexpectedly strong cooling in the subtropical North Atlantic, leading to the presence of drier air.

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