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2019 Atlantic hurricane season to be near normal, forecasters say

During superstorm Sandy in 2012, waves on Block

During superstorm Sandy in 2012, waves on Block Island Sound crash into a bulkhead near a house on Soundview Drive in Montauk. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Atlantic hurricane season, which begins June 1, is expected to bring near-normal activity this year, federal forecasters said Thursday.

There is a 70 percent likelihood of nine to 15 named storms, of which four to eight could become hurricanes, predicted forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center. 

And, two to four of those storms could become major hurricanes, meaning Category 3 or higher.

A dozen named storms — with six becoming hurricanes and three of them major — is considered an average season, NOAA said.

The outlook does not make predictions as to how many storms will make landfall.  

Of the near-normal nine to 15 storms, Gerry Bell, lead hurricane forecaster with the prediction center, said, “that’s still a lot of activity,” but regardless of the numbers, the key message is to be prepared. 

Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. However, there can be outlier storms, such as Subtropical Storm Andrea, which formed earlier this week in the Western Atlantic, dissipated quickly, and is figured into the outlook’s numbers. Subtropical means the system has a mix of characteristics, tropical and nontropical.

While storms do form earlier, August through October is considered the peak of the season. 

This year’s near-normal forecast reflects two competing factors, Bell said.

First, the presence of a weak El Nino, which is a periodic climate pattern with features that suppress hurricanes. Among them would be upper-level westerly winds in the Atlantic, “tearing apart hurricanes as they try to form,” according to a posting on Colorado State University’s website. 

However, favoring increased activity are warmer-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean, along with an enhanced West African Monsoon, which is a major wind system.

Tropical storm categories are based on speed of winds, which of course can cause great damage. That was witnessed last October with Hurricane Michael, which slammed into the Florida Panhandle after quickly strengthening to a Category 5 and “decimated everything in its path,” Bell said.

But water can be equally destructive, with Bell pointing to massive flooding farther inland in the Carolinas from Hurricane Florence last September. That storm weakened and stalled, producing days of rain across the region.

Regardless of the overall number of storms, it takes only one tropical system to devastate a community, as Long Islanders recall from superstorm Sandy in October 2012. That storm killed dozens of people along the East Coast, including at least 48 New Yorkers, and damaged 95,000 homes, businesses and government buildings on Long Island alone. 

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