NOAA ups odds for above-normal activity for 2019 hurricane season

Hurricane Michael makes landfall as a powerful Category 5 hurricane about 1:30 p.m. Oct. 10, 2018, near Mexico Beach, Florida. It was the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the contiguous United States since Andrew in 1992. 

Forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now say conditions are more favorable for above-normal hurricane activity during the 2019 Atlantic season, which began in June and continues through Nov. 30.

Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, made the announcement Aug. 8 during an update of the season’s outlook, which typically comes upon arrival of the peak months, August-October, when about 95% of tropical storms and hurricanes form.

NOAA released its initial outlook in May, just before the season started, which predicted a near-normal season. Forecasters gave a 40% chance of a near-normal season, 30% chance of an above-normal season and 30% chance of a below-normal season.

Forecasters have upped the odds of an above-normal season to 45% with a 35% chance of having near-normal activity and 20% chance of a below-normal season.

Forecasters now predict that 10-17 named storms will form this season, including two previous ones, Andrea and Barry. Of those named storms with winds of 39 mph or greater, five-nine are likely to strengthen into a hurricane with winds of 74 mph or greater and two-four could become major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or greater.

An average Atlantic hurricane season has 12 named storms with six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

One of the biggest reasons for the increase in likelihood for above-normal activity is that El Nino in the Pacific Ocean is gone and normal conditions have returned, Bell said.

“El Nino typically suppresses Atlantic hurricane activity, but now that it’s gone, we could see a busier season ahead,” he said.

Other oceanic and atmospheric conditions associated with the ongoing high-activity era for Atlantic hurricanes that begin in 1995 also give cause for forecasters to increase the probability of a busier season, he said.

Bell said forecasters had some uncertainty about the forecast in May partly because they were unsure of what El Nino would do.

“But now that it’s gone, we know it (activity) could be higher,” he said, adding that none of the predictions are 100% certain.

He also said storms that form could last longer and be stronger without the presence of El Nino.

“Weather patterns will be more hospitable for hurricanes,” he said.

He said it was typical to have only one to two named storms during June and July. Early season activity or lack thereof doesn’t affect what might come during the busy months, he said. It all has to do with weather patterns as the season progresses.

Forecasters know now that conditions are “most hospitable” for a more active season.

Bell said residents who live in coastal areas and those living inland shouldn’t concentrate on the outlook’s numbers, but instead use it as motivation to get ready.

“It’s about preparedness,” he said. “It only takes one storm to have a catastrophic impact on a community.”

He advises everyone to be aware of his or her risks, to make a plan and be prepared. He recommends visiting the website ready.gov. Pinellas County residents should visit www.pinellascounty.org/resident/disasters.htm for more localized hurricane preparedness information, including evacuation zones and shelter locations.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.