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Quiet Atlantic Basin Still Likely to Produce Hurricanes This Year, Forecasters Say

Despite relative calm during the first 10 weeks of the Atlantic hurricane season, forecasters still expect tropical activity this year that could threaten energy interests in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and along the eastern seaboard.

In an updated 2016 Atlantic hurricane season outlook released Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said they still expect this to be the most active hurricane season since 2012. NOAA forecasters said they see a 70% chance of 12-17 named storms in the Atlantic, of which five to eight could become hurricanes, including two to four major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher).

That's a slight increase from NOAA's pre-hurricane season forecast, which called for a 70% likelihood of 10-16 named storms, of which four to eight could become hurricanes, including one to four major hurricanes (see Daily GPI, May 27).

"We've raised the numbers because some conditions now in place are indicative of a more active hurricane season, such as El Nino ending, weaker vertical wind shear and weaker trade winds over the central tropical Atlantic, and a stronger west African monsoon," said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "However, less conducive ocean temperature patterns in both the Atlantic and eastern subtropical North Pacific, combined with stronger wind shear and sinking motion in the atmosphere over the Caribbean Sea, are expected to prevent the season from becoming extremely active."

Forecasters at Colorado State University (CSU), on the other hand, continue to forecast a near-average Atlantic hurricane season.

"While the tropical Atlantic is slightly warmer than normal, the far North Atlantic and subtropical eastern Atlantic are somewhat cooler than normal, potentially indicative of a negative phase of the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation. We anticipate a near-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the United States coastline and in the Caribbean," the CSU team said.

The most recent CSU forecast calls for a total of 15 named storms this year, six of them hurricanes, including two major hurricanes. CSU's pre-season forecast differed only in that it called for 13 named storms this year (see Daily GPI, April 15). There is also a 41% chance of at least one major hurricane tracking into the Caribbean this year, compared to a 42% average over the last century, they said.

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). This year, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) named the first hurricane 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. A second hurricane, Earl, made landfall in Belize and Mexico last week.

A trio of other named storms have made landfall so far this year (Tropical Storm Bonnie, in South Carolina on May 29; Tropical Storm Colin, which crossed over Florida during the first week of June, and Tropical Storm Danielle, which dissipated over central Mexico two weeks later), but impact on the energy industry has been minimal.

A combination of fewer tropical storms and a lessening reliance on Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas production (thanks to the growth in 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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