Update 2:20 p.m.: After coming on with a record-challenging virility in 2015, El Nino is playing coy this year, making the job of seasonal hurricane forecasting an even bigger gamble than normal.
Colorado State University storm expert Phil Klotzbach, who spoke Monday at the National Hurricane Conference in New Orleans, said El Nino is sending signals that it could go either way – make an appearance by summer or fall, or be a complete no-show.
The intentions of the hurricane-repelling climate pattern are watched closely by meteorologists who know its presence is climatologically tied to below average storm seasons, which is what Klotzbach is currently forecasting.
During the super strong El Nino two years ago, the tropical Atlantic spun up 11 named storms with no Florida landfalls. Last year, during a La Nina, there were 15 storms, including Hurricane Hermine, which came ashore in Florida’s Panhandle and Category 5 Hurricane Matthew, which could have devastated South Florida if its eye wobbled 60 miles west instead of jogging east.
“In my view, it’s on a knife’s edge right now,” Klotzbach said about El Nino. “We need a moderate El Nino to really get a hurricane killer.”
The hurricane conference, which runs through Thursday, draws emergency managers, scientists and municipal leaders from hurricane-prone areas nationwide. It was last held in New Orleans in 2013.
In addition to the popular seasonal forecast, delivered to a packed room at the Hyatt Regency, other topics Monday included how to get children involved in storm preparation and ways to communicate a sense urgency with adults.
“Adults won’t react,” said Bob Breck, a former television meteorologist who now does consulting. “You can drill it over and over again and they won’t react unless their kid hits them over the head with it.”
That’s why New York City created the character Ready Girl – a superhero who speaks with children about having emergency “go-bags” and being prepared for hurricanes.
Previous story: The Climate Prediction Center released its April El Niño forecast just in time for opening day of the National Hurricane Conference in New Orleans, and it’s a bit of a tease.
While chances are at 50 percent that the hurricane-repelling climate pattern will make an appearance late summer or fall, it’s sending mixed signals with ocean waters being cooler than they should be in some places and warmer than they should be in others.
This is a dilemma for seasonal hurricane forecasters like Colorado State University’s Phil Klotzbach, who is speaking this afternoon at the conference about his 2017 prediction and will no doubt fill in some blanks about what’s up with El Niño.
Klotzbach is forecasting a slightly below average storm season, but it all depends on what kind of showing El Niño makes.
Hurricane forecasters largely base their predictions on El Niño and La Niña, knowing that the changes they introduce in the atmosphere are climatologically tied to either above active hurricane seasons or slower seasons.
El Niño, usually means a below average number of storms during the June 1 through November storm period.
But climatologists have been a little perplexed about the symptoms El Niño has been showing this year.
In a NOAA blog Friday, Anthony Barnston writes that computer models continue to predict the development of El Niño over the next several months, “but current conditions in the tropical Pacific aren’t showing many of the elements we’d expect ahead of a developing El Niño.”
“The tricky thing this year is El Niño,” said Klotzbach. “Two years ago we were confident it would be a strong El Niño, but this year, it’s a lot more uncertain.”
Computer models have hinted at an El Niño since at least December, but its appearance would be unusual because it would be on the heels of the strong El Niño that occurred in 2015-2016.
“We really shouldn’t be getting another one already,” Klotzbach said.
Check back later today for more information about El Niño and other events occurring at the National Hurricane Conference, which runs through Thursday.