A potential El Nino event -- warmer-than-normal water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator -- is likely to limit the production of tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean this year, resulting in below-average hurricane activity, according to a pair of prominent weather forecasters.
In an extended range forecast released Thursday, scientists at Colorado State University (CSU) said they expect slightly below-average activity in the Atlantic Basin this year, with 11 named storms, of which four are expected to become hurricanes, including two major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). A day earlier, AccuWeather meteorologists said they expect 10 named storms in the Atlantic this year, of which five could become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.
There were 15 named storms, including seven hurricanes, four of them major hurricanes, in the Atlantic Basin on 2016. The median during 1981-2010 was 12 named storms, four of them hurricanes, including two major hurricanes.
"The big factor is going to be the fact that we now believe El Nino will come on board some time during the summer and will continue all the way through the rest of the hurricane season," said AccuWeather meteorologist Dan Kottlowski.
The current El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is likely to transition to either weak or moderate El Nino conditions by the peak of hurricane season, according to the CSU forecast team.
"The tropical Atlantic has anomalously cooled over the past month and the far North Atlantic is relatively cold, potentially indicative of a negative phase of the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation," the CSU team said. "We anticipate a below-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the United States coastline and in the Caribbean."
The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
Despite the unusual formation of a hurricane in January 2016, the Atlantic Basin last year produced relatively few storms that had significant impact on U.S. oil and natural gas interests. In early September, Hurricane Hermine made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane near St. Marks, FL, and forced nearly 20% of Gulf of Mexico (GOM) oil production and nearly 11% of GOM natural gas production to be temporarily shut in. A month later, Hurricane Matthew slammed into Florida's east coast, knocking out electricity to hundreds of thousands, resulting in a 0.5 Bcf/d drop in natural gas demand in the state.
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 from inland shale plays) has kept hurricane-related damage to the nation's energy infrastructure and markets to a minimum in recent years.