An El Nino event -- the warming of water temperatures in the central and equatorial Pacific Ocean -- is likely to limit the number of hurricanes that form in the Atlantic Basin this year, according to forecasters at Colorado State University (CSU), more good news for the U.S. natural gas industry, which is increasingly insulated from the impact of tropical storms.
"We anticipate that the 2014 Atlantic basin hurricane season will have below-average activity compared with the 1981-2010 climatology," the CSU forecast team said in its first forecast for the upcoming hurricane season, which begins June 1. "It appears quite likely that an El Nino of at least moderate strength will develop this summer and fall. In addition, the tropical Atlantic has anomalously cooled over the past few months. We anticipate a below-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the United States coastline and in the Caribbean."
CSU forecasters are expecting nine tropical storms in the Atlantic Basin this year, including three hurricanes, one of them major (Category 3 or higher). That is comparable to a recent forecast from Houston-based ImpactWeather that called for 10 tropical storms, including four hurricanes, one of them major (see Daily GPI, March 25). Like the CSU team, ImpactWeather expects the development of an El Nino to limit the number of tropical storms developing this year.
The 2013 hurricane season, which many forecasters had expected to be active, turned out to be relatively quiet, with only passing threats to natural gas and oil interests in the GOM. There were 14 named storms last year, but only two of them -- Humberto and Ingrid -- became hurricanes, and none reached major hurricane status. Late in the hurricane season, Tropical Storm Karen forced natural gas and oil operations to be shut in and dozens of platforms to be evacuated, but the storm weakened before doing any major damage (see Daily GPI, Oct. 7, 2013).
Last year's Atlantic hurricane seasonal forecasts were generally a bust due to a the most significant spring weakening of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation (THC) since 1950, according to CSU. The THC, which is part of the circulation of ocean waters that occurs globally and is driven by differences in water density, heats the North Atlantic.
"We believe that the primary cause of the lack of 2013 hurricane activity was the unexpectedly large decrease in the strength of the Atlantic Ocean thermohaline circulation between the winter (January-March) and the spring (April-June) period," they said.
Increased natural gas production from U.S. shale plays in recent years has lessened the potential impact of Gulf hurricanes on prices and supply (see Daily GPI, Sept. 18, 2013).
Marketed natural gas production out of the GOM has been on the decline since 1997, when it was 5.21 Tcf, about 27% of the Lower 48 total, according to Energy Information Administration data. By 2013 that number had tumbled to 1.31 Tcf, just 5% of the Lower 48 total.