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NOAA: Atlantic Hurricane Season Likely 'Near-Normal,' Though La Nina Still to Play Its Hand

The first Atlantic hurricane of the year appeared six months ahead of the official June 1 opening of the season, and another may be about to form near Bermuda, but don't expect an unusually large number of tropical storms this year, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Friday.

NOAA said there is a 70% likelihood of 10-16 named storms in the Atlantic this year, of which four to eight could become hurricanes, including one to four major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). The forecasters said there is a 45% change of a near-normal hurricane season, a 30% chance of an above-normal season, and a 25% chance of a below-normal season.

"Our hurricane season outlook is based on predictions of climate factors that are known to influence the formation, development and propagation of hurricanes, along with model predictions of atmospheric and oceanic conditions," said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan. "This year, there is strong variability in several key climate factors greater than in past years, and so there is uncertainty as to whether these factors will be reinforcing each other, or competing with respect to tropical storm formation."

For example, there is uncertainty about whether a high-activity era of Atlantic hurricanes, which began in 1995, has ended, Sullivan said. And there is uncertainty about the extent to which an El Nino or a La Nina event in the Pacific will influence hurricane formation in the Atlantic.

"Yes, the El Nino is dissipating, but the tail of its impacts could extend into the early part of the hurricane season," she said. "NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a 70% chance of La Nina developing on the heels of that, and La Nina then to be present during the peak months of hurricane season, which are August to October. In the Atlantic, La Nina favors more hurricane activity, but model predictions show uncertainty as to how strong the La Nina impacts will be."

A solid La Nina event is likely this year, according to Michael Schlacter, chief meteorologist at Weather 2000, though he said Thursday the Atlantic is still in the midst of the high-activity tropical cycle. Schlacter expects "named storms in the teens and several hurricanes" to form in the Atlantic this year.

Forecasters at Colorado State University (CSU) have said the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season isn't likely to produce an unusual number of tropical storms, despite a fading El Nino and the possibility of La Nina conditions in the Pacific (see Daily GPIApril 15). The CSU forecast calls for a total of 13 named storms this year, six of them hurricanes, including two major hurricanes. There is also a 40% chance of at least one major hurricane tracking into the Caribbean this year, compared to a 42% average over the last century, they said.

AccuWeather forecasters believe the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season could be more active than usual, with a total of 14 named storms, eight of them hurricanes, including four major hurricanes (see Daily GPI, April 6). As many as three of those named storms are expected to make landfall in the United States, the AccuWeather forecasters said. And WeatherBell Analytics' forecaster Joe Bastardi also expects a slightly above normal Atlantic hurricane season, with 11-14 named storms, six to eight of them hurricanes, and two to five of those major hurricanes.

A typical Atlantic hurricane season produces a dozen named storms. The first Atlantic hurricane of 2015 didn't form until mid-August (see Daily GPI,Aug. 21, 2015). The hurricane season officially runs from June 1 until Nov. 30.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) named the first hurricane of 2016 in January. Hurricane Alex, the first hurricane to form in the Atlantic in January since 1938, remained well out at sea and did not threaten the North American mainland.

On Friday, the NHC was tracking a low pressure area between Bermuda and the Bahamas could become the second named storm of 2016.

"Environmental conditions are generally conducive for a tropical or subtropical cyclone to form later today or Saturday while this system moves west-northwestward to northwestward toward the southeastern United States coast," NHC said. An Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft was scheduled to investigate the low Friday afternoon.

"According to our forecasters, this system has quite a high chance of becoming a tropical or a subtropical cyclone, in which case it would pick up the next name in the season's list, and that would be Bonnie," Sullivan said. "Storms in May are not unusual. We had two back in 2012. This one may or may not reach the threshold, but that prospect is quite high."

A combination of fewer tropical storms and a lessening reliance on Gulf of Mexico production (thanks to the growth of production out of inland shale plays) has kept hurricane-related damage to the nation's energy infrastructure and markets to a minimum in recent years.

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