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Transition to El Nino Slows, But Mild Hurricane Season Still Likely, Forecaster Says

The Atlantic hurricane season, which officially began Sunday, is still predicted to be a relatively mild one, despite a slower-than-expected transition to an El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean, according to forecasters at Colorado State University (CSU).

"We continue to foresee a below-average 2014 Atlantic hurricane season," said CSU forecasters Philip Klotzbach and William Gray. "The tropical Atlantic remains slightly cooler than normal, while El Nino is in the process of developing.

"However, the transition to El Nino has slowed some in recent weeks, and the tropical Atlantic has anomalously warmed, causing us to increase our forecast slightly."

The CSU team now expects 10 tropical storms in the Atlantic Basin this year, including four hurricanes, one of them major (Category 3 or higher). That's one more tropical storm and one more hurricane than were included in CSU's previous tropical forecast (see Daily GPIApril 11).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently said that it too expects a relatively mild Atlantic hurricane season, with eight to 13 named storms, including three to six hurricanes, one to two of them major (see Daily GPIMay 22). And like other tropical forecasters, NOAA said it anticipates the development in late summer of an El Nino event -- the warming of water temperatures in the central and equatorial Pacific Ocean -- will suppress the number and intensity of tropical storms in the Atlantic Basin.

The 1981-2010 seasonal average is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. There were 14 named storms last year, but only two of them 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).

Weather Services International, AccuWeather.com and ImpactWeather have all recently released forecasts calling for a below-average hurricane season, and pointed to El Nino as the meteorological event holding down tropical storm development (see Daily GPIMay 19May 15; March 25).

The CSU forecasters said there is a 32% probability of at least one major hurricane tracking into the Caribbean this year, compared with a 42% average over the past century, and a 23% probability for at least one major hurricane making landfall between the Florida panhandle and Brownsville, TX.

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 GPISept. 18, 2013). Marketed natural gas production out of the Gulf of Mexico 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.

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