US hurricane season: ‘near or below normal’

Written by Staff Writer Climate and weather predictions can be tricky, especially when forecasting the years ahead. So please don’t feel too bad about the forecast for the next storm season, which has been…

US hurricane season: 'near or below normal'

Written by Staff Writer

Climate and weather predictions can be tricky, especially when forecasting the years ahead. So please don’t feel too bad about the forecast for the next storm season, which has been declared “near or below normal.” That’s the assessment of the Climate Prediction Center (CPC), the US government’s authoritative research and forecasting group.

The reason? The current El Niño — dubbed “Coelusive El Niño” and generated by a warming of ocean waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean — is ending before it could have any impact on Atlantic hurricane development, said Jim Lushine, senior research scientist at the Climate Prediction Center.

While El Niño can bring above-average tropical cyclone activity in the Pacific and possibly Asia, hurricanes tend to form farther south during it in the Atlantic, where a drop in sea surface temperatures can hamper the development of storms.

These storms tend to form west of the Equator in the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean Sea. El Niño is largely known for producing a deep and relatively wet El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) pattern of the Atlantic, which tends to favor it.

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But now that ENSO appears to be in the midst of a transition, a scenario that could create an El Niño+La Niña pattern that might continue over the coming years, Lushine says that we are in a position that’s just “kind of neutral,” or close to El Niño conditions.

El Niño often forces tropical cyclone activity to lay low farther west, but the current cold Atlantic waters, both because of El Niño and La Niña conditions, have broken up that pattern for now.

“If this pattern plays out, more storms would tend to fall to the east of the Carolinas, and stay south of Florida, or they’ll just tend to taper off before they ever get really out of hand,” Lushine said.

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Below-normal hurricane activity, and warmer than average waters for the Atlantic Ocean, which results in lower wind shear, will help sustain areas like the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Jamaica, he added.

Though the jet stream will likely remain unstable — bringing storm systems from East to West rather than Northern to Southern — conditions will not be as conducive for storm systems to move east.

“There’s still a little bit of uncertainty because we don’t really know where the jet stream will be in the summer,” Lushine said. “Right now it seems like it’s going to track to the right of the jet stream, with the jet stream passing into the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. “

“That’s not ideal for storminess, but I don’t think it’s going to get bad. We’re not overly worried about it. It’s just kind of going to set up over the years,” he added.

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“But it does set up a situation where we’re unlikely to see the current pattern that has kept things stable, relatively tame, and so we’re not really going to see a lot of really intense storms,” he continued.

Lushine cautioned that “perfect” conditions would not necessarily occur, as El Niño and La Niña are hard to forecast, and conditions can change quickly.

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“Are we seeing the perfect storm?” he said. “Of course not. But are we likely to see one? I don’t think so.”

The next storm season will be from June 1 to November 30, and the 2020 forecast was not provided, in line with past practices. The Arctic Oscillation is expected to be more active than average and forecast to be a neutral phase.

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