Atmosphere confused as hurricane season nears

Competing atmospheric influences are building as the June 1 hurricane season nears, complicating storm forecasts trying to predict impacts in a post El Nino climate.

Phil Kotzbach, lead hurricane researcher for Colorado State University, said an increasing chance of storm-friendly La Nina forming is happening at the same time that sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic are cooling.

Klotzbach spoke Friday to a packed conference room at the Governor’s Hurricane Conference held this week in Orlando.

“I know people want a super confident forecast that says exactly what is going to happen, but there is a lot of uncertainty and a higher bust potential than we had last year,” Klotzbach said.

Colorado State University issued its early predictions for the season that begins June 1 last month calling for a near-average season with 12 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes with sustained winds of 111 mph or more.

 

The forCaptureecast for 12 storms does not include January’s Hurricane Alex, which was unremarkable except for its untimely appearance during winter.

One big change this season is the emergence of La Nina.

On Thursday, the Climate Prediction Center increased the chances of La Nina forming by September to 75 percent. NOAA issued a La Nina watch in April.

Unlike El Nino, which created wind shear that cut down hurricanes last year, La Nina is more hurricane-friendly.

“We’ve been in El Nino and that’s our friend if you live along the East Coast,” Klotzbach said. “Unfortunately we are moving into La Nina and we won’t have El Nino knocking down storms in 2016.”

Still, a super-cold North Atlantic may “cancel out” the influence of La Nina, Klotzbach said.

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Also included in CSU’s analysis is a 50 percent probability that a severe hurricane will make a U.S. landfall, just below the historical average. The chances for a major hurricane hitting the Atlantic coast of Florida are 30 percent, also just skirting the historical average of 31 percent.

Klotzbach took over as lead author of CSU’s report from hurricane expert William Gray in 2006. Gray died last month at the age of 86.

CSU’s forecast is notable in that it is the first time since 2013 where the season was not forecast to be below average. Seasonal averages include 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

The updated forecast is scheduled for release June 1.

NASA image of Hurricane Joaquin.

NASA image of Hurricane Joaquin.

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