NewsdayTV meteorologists Bill Korbel and Rich Von Ohlen tell you what to expect this season. Credit: Newsday/Villa Loarca/Paraskevas

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday forecast up to 25 tropical storms and seven major hurricanes this year, the most the agency has ever predicted.

“This season is looking to be an extraordinary one,” Richard Spinrad, NOAA administrator, said at a news conference.

Tropical storms generate maximum wind speeds of 39 to 73 mph. Major hurricanes are tropical storms that develop wind speeds of greater than 111 mph, causing devastating damage.

The North Atlantic hurricane season, which is the one that affects Long Island and the tristate, runs from June through November, though most hurricanes occur from August through October.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • National Weather Service forecasters predict a record-setting range of 17 to 25 storms with winds of 39 mph or higher.
  • Eight to 13 are forecast to become hurricanes, including 4 to 7 major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.
  • The above-normal activity is due to a near-record warm Atlantic Ocean and other climate factors.

Underlying this year's outlook were warming Atlantic Ocean waters and climate patterns historically associated with a busy hurricane season, NOAA climate scientists said.

NOAA started its May hurricane outlooks in 1999. For eight consecutive years, the federal agency has forecast Atlantic hurricane seasons to be more powerful and frequent than average. Since 1985, Long Island has been hit by several major hurricanes, including Gloria (1985), Irene (2011), Sandy (2012), which morphed into a superstorm, and the remnants of Ida in 2021.

More hurricanes in any given season increases the chance one might make landfall, but the outlook is not certain, and many of the tropical storms that do develop could spin themselves out harmlessly in the ocean without hitting land.

But Long Island officials took notice. “Suffolk County is more vulnerable … than ever to coastal storms, and preparedness is of the utmost importance,” Suffolk County Executive Edward P. Romaine said in a statement. “We urge our residents to start planning now.”

County planning includes meetings with American Red Cross and ferry companies to review shelter capacity and evacuation procedures for Fire Island and shoreline communities, a spokesman for Romaine said. The county will host tabletop exercises focusing on hurricane preparedness in June for law enforcement, utility companies and others. The county uses an automated alert system to communicate with residents during emergencies, which residents can sign up for by texting SuffolkAlerts to 67283.

In the vast region of ocean between Central America and the west coast of Africa where hurricanes form, conditions are prime for storm formation, Matthew Rosencrans, lead hurricane seasonal forecaster for NOAA said, starting with the warmest water temperatures since 1981 — and possibly the 1800s — though older records are spotty. In April, sea temperatures reached record warmth over the tropical Atlantic Ocean, according to NOAA.

“For tropical storms to develop, you need water temperature of 80 Fahrenheit,” he said. Any additional heat means a storm can “extract energy and transition to hurricane even faster,” he said.

Two other factors are at play this year, he said. One is a busier than usual monsoon season in Western Africa, creating more tropical disturbances that can develop into storms as the trade winds push them westward. The other is La Niña, a climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean that generally means less wind shear in the Atlantic development region, giving those storms a better chance to build.

Some of the added ocean heat is human-caused, a function of greenhouse gasses emitted by industry, transportation and other sources. It has led to much heavier rain and more intense wind at the core of storms, Rosencrans said.

Research has also showed that warmer sea surface temperatures are more likely to yield storms that undergo rapid intensification — put simply, turning very powerful very fast, in 24 hours or less, said Kevin Reed, a professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “The majority of major storms undergo this rapid intensification,” he said.

Human-caused climate change is also causing sea levels to rise, which increases the risk of storm surge and flooding in low-lying coastal areas like Long Island's South Shore. 

Some experts said annual variations in the number of storms are not as significant as any one major storm: “It doesn’t matter how many are out there. It just takes one storm to do it,”  Newsday meteorologist Bill Korbel said. “It’s just a matter of time — it will happen again, this year or next year, in 10 years.”

There were 20 named Atlantic storms in 2023, the fourth-most in a year since 1950. Seven were hurricanes and three intensified to major hurricanes. NOAA’s August 2023 outlook had predicted up to 21 named storms, including up to 11 hurricanes with five major hurricanes. An average season has 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

CORRECTION: A prior version of this story misidentified the climate pattern La Niña that can reduce wind shear, leading to the formation of more tropical storms.  

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