Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t start officially until June 1, but the first major outlook, one that anticipates near average activity this year, was issued Thursday.
The total number of named storms is expected to be 13, six upgraded to hurricanes, with two becoming major — that’s Category 3 or above, according to researchers at Colorado State University.
Those figures include a rare bird — Hurricane Alex, a tropical phenomenon that actually formed in January, an occurrence not seen since 1938.
That means 12 more named storms are expected this year, with five transitioning to hurricanes.
Average is considered 12 named storms, 6 1⁄2 of them hurricanes and two of them major, according to the extended range forecast, prepared by Philip J. Klotzbach, research scientist.
Though the season, which runs through the end of November, is not expected to be active, Klotzbach reminded coastal residents, as he does every year, “that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them.”
Last year’s season was forecast to come in with below-average activity, which ended up being the case.
Much credit for that went to El Niño, a climate pattern affecting weather worldwide and characterized by unusually warm sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific.
Now weakening, El Niño last year produced strong vertical wind shear, which is an element making “it difficult for tropical storms and hurricanes to form and strengthen,” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said at the end of last year’s season.
Thursday’s report said that while “shear-enhancing El Niño conditions are likely to dissipate in the next several months,” North Atlantic waters are quite cold. That can “force atmospheric conditions that are less conducive for Atlantic hurricane formation and intensification.”
Still, the report says not to look at this as a slam dunk. “Our predictions are our best estimate,” and there’s still “large uncertainty” at this stage. An update is to be released on June 1.