Hurricane Matthew hit the western Atlantic, including parts of Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic, the southeastern U.S., and the Canadian Maritimes, from September to October 2016.
NOAA’s climate experts say that the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season will most likely have above-normal activity.
Ben Friedman, acting NOAA administrator, revealed this year’s seasonal outlook during a press conference May 25. Forecasters with the Climate Prediction Center give odds of 45 percent that the season, which runs June 1-Nov. 30, will have above-normal activity, a 35 percent chance of near-normal activity and a 20 percent chance of a below-normal season.
Friedman said the seasonal outlook underscores the importance of preparedness before the season arrives.
“Start now, not after the storm arrives,” he said. “There is potential for a lot of hurricane activity this year.”
An average season has 12 named storms with six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
Forecasters say there is 70 percent likelihood that 11-17 named storms will form this year with five-nine strengthening into hurricanes and two-four strengthening into a major hurricane. The forecast numbers includes Tropical Storm Arlene, which formed over the eastern Atlantic in April.
Named storms have winds of 39 mph or greater. Hurricanes have winds of 74 mph or higher, and major hurricanes, a Category 3, 4 or 5, have winds of 111 mph or higher.
“The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Nino, near- or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region, said Dr. Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster.
Strong El Ninos tend to suppress hurricanes by increasing wind shear and stabilizing the atmosphere. Wind shear also suppresses development of storms. Warm sea surface temperatures tend to fuel hurricanes.
“It is this combination of factors that make a more active season most likely,” Bell said.
It has been 12 years since a Category 3 or higher hurricane has hit the continental United States. The last one was Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Robert Fenton, acting FEMA administrator talked about concerns that the public has become complacent and inexperienced about the dangers.
Friedman pointed out that all hurricanes and tropical storms could be devastating, using the example of Hurricane Matthew, which moved along the east coast from Florida to Virginia last year. Flooding and storm surge caused $10 billion in damages and 34 deaths. Another 550 died in the Caribbean. Matthew is the deadliest hurricane on record.
“Just because it is not a major hurricane doesn’t mean it is not dangerous and deadly,” he said, adding that flooding and storm surge is the most dangerous effect of a hurricane, not the winds.
Fenton said individual preparedness is critical, as people need to be able to help themselves.
People should know their evacuation zone. Pinellas County will be releasing new evacuation zone maps on June 1. They also should have a communication plan for their family and an evacuation plan that includes their pets. Fenton said people don’t have to evacuate hundreds of miles away. Instead, they should go to the nearest non-evacuation area and stay with family or friends when possible.
He said people should make sure they have a well-stocked disaster kit with food, water and emergency supplies, including prescription medications and cash. People also should make plans for charging their cell phones during a power outage.
Flood insurance must be purchased 30 days before a storm is forecast, so he urges everyone to evaluate the need for insurance and buy now if necessary. He encourages people to check on their neighbors before and after a storm. People also should follow instructions from local emergency managers and officials.
Fenton said NOAA was working toward creating a “more weather ready nation,” but it is important for the public to do all it can to respond when disaster strikes.
“It really only takes one storm,” he said.
For more preparedness information, visit ready.gov.