The 2016 Atlantic hurricane season may outpace last year but still echo past seasons with only an average number of storms, according to forecasters from Colorado State University who traditionally issue the first projection of the season.
Meteorologist Phil Klotzbach, with help from forecast founder, William Gray, said Thursday he expects two major hurricanes with winds above 110 mph, five hurricanes and 12 named storms after the season starts June 1. But Klotzbach warned that the prediction, which relies on past hurricane activity to create a statistical forecast, contains a high level of uncertainty and that the team fares better calculating below or above average seasons.
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Last year’s intense El Niño may also throw a wrinkle into the forecast.
El Niños help tamp down Atlantic hurricanes — last year’s tally fell below average with four hurricanes and 11 named storms — by warming water in the Pacific and driving winds eastward to help stop or weaken storms. Last year’s El Niño peaked in November and has so far been fizzling out. Normally, that might set the stage for a more active season, but Klotzbach said water temperatures in the North Atlantic remain quite cold. Hurricanes feed off warm water.
However on Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned that a La Niña could form in late summer, just as South Florida’s season typically kicks into high gear. The forecasts are supported by history: La Niñas almost always follow El Niños, cooling waters and stirring up winds in the Atlantic.
With that in mind, Klotzbach and Gray searched “for years that were generally characterized by El Niño conditions the previous year with a transition to neutral or La Niña conditions during the current year.” They also looked at a mix of water temperatures because they aren’t sure what will happen over the summer and fall. Still, their calculations came up with an average number for seasons between 1981 and 2010.
Already, this year’s season has made a mark on the record books. In January, a rare post season Hurricane Alex, the first since 1938, formed over the Azores and quickly weakened. Forecasters plan to name the next storm Bonnie.
Last year's warning:
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich