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NOAA Sees Quiet Atlantic Hurricane Season, But Warns U.S. Not 'Off the Hook'

Joining the consensus view from private forecasters that the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season will likely exhibit below-normal activity, forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center (CPC) on Wednesday warned that a depressed season doesn't mean that U.S. coastal areas are out of the woods.

For the hurricane season, which officially begins Monday (June) and runs through Nov. 30, NOAA is predicting a 70% likelihood of six to 11 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which three to six could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including zero to two major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher). While a below-normal season is likely (70%), there is also a 20% chance of a near-normal season, and a 10% chance of an above-normal season.

“A below-normal season doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. As we’ve seen before, below-normal seasons can still produce catastrophic impacts to communities,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, referring to the 1992 season in which only seven named storms formed, yet the first was Andrew, a Category 5 Major Hurricane that devastated South Florida.

While increased natural gas production from U.S. onshore shale plays in recent years has lessened the potential impact of Gulf of Mexico (GOM) hurricanes on prices and supply (see Daily GPISept. 18, 2013), production from the GOM still accounts for more than 3 Bcf/d or about 5% of supply. Total marketed natural gas production out of the Federal GOM has been on the decline since 1997, when it was 14.05 Bcf/d, according to Energy Information Administration (EIA) data. By 2014 that number had tumbled to 3.37 Bcf/d, and EIA estimates that it will continue to decline to 3.17 Bcf/d this year and 2.97 Bcf/d in 2016.

The quiet hurricane season forecast is being attributed in part to the development of an El Nino, the same phenomenon cited by Weather Services International (WSI) on Tuesday for its mild summer temperature forecast (see Daily GPIMay 26).

“The main factor expected to suppress the hurricane season this year is El Nino, which is already affecting wind and pressure patterns, and is forecast to last through the hurricane season,” said CPC’s Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster. “El Nino may also intensify as the season progresses, and is expected to have its greatest influence during the peak months of the season. We also expect sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic to be close to normal, whereas warmer waters would have supported storm development.”

NOAA's forecast was similar to other recently released outlooks published by AccuWeather, WSI and Colorado State University (CSU). AccuWeather predicts a total of eight named storms, including four hurricanes, only one of them major, with two or three systems making landfall in the United States (see Daily GPIMay 14). WSI forecasters said they expect a total of nine named storms, including five hurricanes, only one of them major (see Daily GPIApril 21); the CSU forecast was 7/3/1 (see Daily GPIApril 10).

The 1950-2014 normal is 12/7/3, and the more recent "active period" (1995-2014) normal is 15/8/3, according to WIS Chief Meteorologist Todd Crawford.

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