The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially begins June 1, is likely to have normal to slightly above-normal activity, and could have an early start in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), forecasters at AccuWeather's Global Weather Center said Monday.
The forecasters expect 12-15 named storms to form in the Atlantic Basin this year, with six to eight becoming hurricanes, including three to five major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). A total of 17 tropical storms formed in the Atlantic in 2017.
"This year may not be quite as active, but still probably normal to slightly above normal," said AccuWeather hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski.
The forecasters expect three or four of the named storms to make landfall in the United States, compared with six last year, including hits to Houston, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Sea surface temperatures are expected to remain warmer than normal across most of the Atlantic Basin and normal to above normal above over the area where more than 85% of all tropical storms form.
"Right now, we are in a weakening La Niña pattern, but the climate pattern is expected to go into what's called a neutral pattern, which promotes near-normal wind shear," Kottlowski said. That would limit tropical development, he said.
Tropical activity in the GOM could begin early in the season, thanks to warm water already in place there, Kottlowski said.
Historical records and AccuWeather's projected pattern suggest the area from Houston to Florida and north through North Carolina's Outer Banks will have an increased likelihood of direct impacts from tropical storms and hurricanes, the forecaster said.
While the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season produced only an average number of tropical storms, there was devastation in several areas.
In late August, Hurricane Harvey stormed into South Texas as a Category 4 storm, with catastrophic rainfall disrupting lives and shuttering the energy breadbasket of the United States. The National Weather Service said Harvey was a 1,000-year storm, a deluge that not only drowned the fourth largest city in the nation but also flooded out neighboring counties and inflicted damages in as many as 50 to the far north and east.
A combination of fewer tropical storms and a lessening reliance on GOM oil and natural gas production, thanks to the growth in production from inland unconventional plays, has kept hurricane-related damage to the nation's energy infrastructure and markets to a minimum in recent years.
Even Harvey, the strongest storm to hit Texas since Carla in 1961, couldn't knock out domestic production, thought it may have been a harbinger of global liquefied natural gas (LNG) market disruptions, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
When Katrina, Rita and Wilma roared out of the GOM 12 years earlier, they had significant consequences in terms of production shut-ins, resulting in price spikes between late August and October 2005, IEA researchers said in a Global Gas Security Review issued last October. Since then, the surge in onshore gas supply has diversified production and shifted gas flows. As a result, Henry Hub spot prices remained stable when Harvey blasted ashore.
At the same time, the Sabine Pass LNG export terminal on the Texas coast was closed for about two weeks.