Warm waters in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico are expected to fuel an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, which kicks off Thursday, June 1.
One tropical storm, Arlene, formed in April and spun harmlessly around the Atlantic. The next named storms are Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin and Gertrude.
“The Atlantic Hurricane season will likely produce a range of 11-17 tropical storms, of which five to nine are expected to become hurricanes; two to four of those are expected to become major hurricanes, Category-3 or higher,” said Gerry Bell, the lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
Bell predicts a 45 percent chance for an above-normal season; a 35 percent chance of a near-normal season, and a 20 percent chance of a below-normal season, which runs through November 30.
“The season could be comparable to last year, which was the most active season since 2012, with 15 named storms.”
“To us, [the prediction] is great for talking points, but it doesn’t mean anything until you see the hurricanes coming,” said Daniel Hahn, Director of Santa Rosa County Emergency Management. He and his staff recently took part in the annual statewide hurricane exercise.
“What it comes down to is: no matter what they say, we’re going to be attentive to what’s happening in the Gulf,” said Hahn. “And if it hits us, it’s a bad season.”
One area that NOAA forecasters are avoiding is any prediction of how many named storms will make landfall in the United States. Forecaster Gerry Bell says this far in advance, they cannot predict what atmospheric conditions will be in place to steer the individual storms.
On the Gulf Coast last September, Hermine became the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in 11 years. Hahn says this year, they’re armed with a new computer program.
“It’s Internet-based,” Hahn said. “Everybody can reach it from their office, from their homes, from the county next door. We could almost run a virtual [Emergency Operations Center] if we had to.”
NOAA is also rolling out some new technology. High-resolution hurricane model upgrades are expected to provide much improved forecast guidance in 2017, and a new weather satellite will help forecasters see developing storms in greater detail.
Also new for this year: Meteorologists will begin issuing earlier tropical cyclone watches, warnings and advisories for disturbances that may threaten land within 48 hours.
And with just a few simple steps, says NOAA’s Gerry Bell says you and your family can be ready for whatever rolls in.
“First, determine your vulnerability to the many different type of hurricane hazards that can arise,” said Bell. “Then, update your family evacuation and communication plans. Third, restock your emergency supply kits, and finally be sure that you have sufficient insurance coverage.”
Meteorologists at Colorado State University last month predicted 11 tropical storms, with four becoming hurricanes. And The Weather Channel predicts an average season, with 12 named storms and six hurricanes.