New hurricane forecast increases number of named storms

Climate experts increased the number of named storms they expect to see this season and upped the chances of above normal activity as Mother Nature’s mood turns mischievous closer to hurricane prime time.

The Climate Prediction Center released its new storm forecast Thursday, which calls for  for 12 to 17 named storms, 5 to 8 hurricanes and 2 to 4 major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.

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While the new prediction isn’t exceptionally higher than the May forecast when 10 to 16 named storms were predicted, the center also increased the probability of a more active season from 30 to 35 percent and is calling for the busiest season since 2012.

Hurricane season peaks late August through mid-October.

“Conditions are in place that favor a more active season and that’s the bottom line,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. “The outlook is really a reflection of what will happen during the peak months of the hurricane season.”

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The demise of El Nino, weak vertical wind shear, feeble trade winds over the central tropical Atlantic and a strong west African monsoon are all contributing to the hike in storm numbers.

La Nina, once given a 75 percent chance of blazing onto the climatological scene, is now expected to be only a weak event by fall and winter with little to contribute to storm season. La Nina doesn’t necessarily encourage more hurricanes, but isn’t one to knock them away either.

“La Nina does favor a more active season, that’s only one player in the game,” Bell said. “It’s only one climate factor.”

An average hurricane season has 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

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And it’s important to note that the new storm numbers include the five named storms that have already come and gone this year – Hurricane Alex, tropical storms Bonnie, Colin, Danielle and Hurricane Earl.

That means up to 12 more named storms could form and six hurricanes if the high end of the center’s prediction holds true.

“The fear a lot of people have is we may get these storms fast and furious,” said Dan Kottlowski, a hurricane expert with the Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather. “We saw how things exploded across the Pacific a few weeks ago.”

In a five week period beginning July 2, the Pacific has burned through five tropical storms and four hurricanes.

The Atlantic basin storms to date have been mostly unremarkable for the U.S. Hurricane Earl, which made landfall in Belize on August 4 is being blamed for at least 40 deaths as its remnants triggered landslides in Mexico.

“Most of the U.S. is probably saying ‘What hurricane season?’” Kottlowski said. “But when you look at the numbers we’re right on schedule to be near normal and all we need is a couple more storms to be above normal.”

Those additional storms aren’t expected to fire up through at least next week. Kottlowski said most forecast models show debilitating wind shear – differences in wind speed and/or direction with height in the atmosphere – in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

“Those conditions will change,” Kottlowski said. “Everyone believes it will become quite active during the height of the season.”

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