Yet another crowd of tropical weather forecasters has chimed in with their predictions for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season. Two weeks ago it was the Colorado State University team of Phil Klotzbach and William Gray, calling for a "well-above average" season.
Now it's AccuWeather.com's hurricane trackers, led by Joe Bastardi, who's expecting only "slightly more storms than average," with increased risk of U.S. landfalls, during the six-month season that opens, officially, on June 1.
For the record, "average" in the Atlantic basin during the period from 1950 to 2000, means 9.6 named storms, with 5.9 of those growing to hurricane force, and 2.3 of those, on average, reaching Category 3, with sustained winds of 111 mph or more.
Bastardi and his crew say both the waning La Nina conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean, and a continuing warm-water cycle in the Atlantic argue for slightly more activity than the average, and increase the chances for U.S. landfalls.
More specifically, they note that the warm conditions are not uniform across the basin. "In some areas where hurricanes normally form - the central and eastern tropical Atlantic," Bastardi said, "ocean water temperatures are near or below normal. This should limit the number of storms." So don't expect a blowout season like 2005.
But "the warmest waters relative to normal will be in the northern areas of the Atlantic, especially toward the North American continent. This could potentially increase the threat of major landfalls to the U.S. coast."
Where the spread of storm tracks last year shifted southwest, sending a batch of powerful storms across the northern Caribbean, "this year, early indications show that the spread will move north and east, with a target closer to the Southeast U.S."
In their April 9 forecast, Klotzbach and Gray said there would be a 45 percent chance that a Cat. 3 storm or bigger would make landfall somewhere along the east coast, including Florida. The long-term average for the last century is 31 percent per season.
Bastardi and company say the conditions this year most resemble those in 1955, 1996 and 1999. (Klotzbach and Gray agreed on 1999, but also found analogs in 1950, 1989 and 2000.) NOTE: An earlier version of this post, relying on a release from AccuWeather included inaccurate dates. AccuWeather has since corrected its release, and those fixes are reflected here.)
In 1955, Hurricanes Connie and Diane struck North Carolina. And 1999 saw both Hurricanes Floyd and Dennis strike North Carolina. Here's the storm track for Floyd.
Hurricane season forecasting is, of course, a very young science. Weather and climate are vast, chaotic systems with more variables than even the most advanced computer models can capture with any certainty. These forecasters do their best with the knowledge they have (or think they have). And their efforts get lots of news play because hurricanes are big threats to life and property. There is always some benefit to alerting the public to the risks we face every year, in the hope we will pay attention, and prepare, when storms are on the move.
When seasonal forecasts fall short of perfect, as they have in recent years, there's a risk that the public will scoff and pay less attention to the hazard in the future. That would be a mistake. Even a slow storm season can cough up one or two calamitous storms. See Hurricane Andrew in 1992. That's some of Andrew's aftermath at left.
Next up is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's forecast, due out next month.