Cold waters in the far north Atlantic should keep the 2016 hurricane season near average, according to Colorado State University hurricane researchers in their annual prediction. The forecast included a 40 percent chance of a hurricane making landfall in the Caribbean.
The CSU Tropical Meteorology Project team predicted that 2016 hurricane activity will be about 95 percent of the average season. By comparison, 2015’s hurricane activity was about 65 percent of the average season.
The team predicted 12 named storms during the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30. Of those, researchers expect five to become hurricanes and two to reach major hurricane strength (Saffir/Simpson category 3-4-5) with sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater. These forecast numbers do not include Hurricane Alex, which formed in January.
El Niño conditions are weakening and are likely to dissipate prior to this summer, the CSU report says, and the absence of El Niño should reduce the strong upper-level westerly winds that were present in the Caribbean and across portions of the tropical Atlantic last season. However, the cold far North Atlantic often generates atmospheric conditions associated with increased sinking motion and stable air across the tropical Atlantic.
The team based its forecast on more than 60 years of historical data that include Atlantic sea surface temperatures, sea level pressures, vertical wind shear levels (the change in wind direction and speed with height in the atmosphere), El Niño (warming of waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific), and other factors.
So far, the 2016 hurricane season is exhibiting characteristics similar to 1941, 1973, 1983, 1992, 1998 and 2003.
“1941, 1973, 1983 and 1992 were below-average hurricane seasons, while 1998 and 2003 had above-average activity,” said Phil Klotzbach, research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science and lead author of the report. Klotzbach announced the seasonal hurricane outlook at the National Tropical Weather Conference Thursday in South Padre Island, Texas.
The CSU team will issue forecast updates on June 1, July 1 and August 3.
This is the 33rd year that the CSU hurricane research team has issued the Atlantic basin season hurricane forecast. William Gray, professor emeritus of atmospheric science, launched the report in 1984.
The CSU forecast is intended to provide a best estimate of activity to be experienced during the upcoming season – not an exact measure.
Klotzbach cautioned coastal residents to take proper precautions.
“It takes only one landfall event near you to make this an active season,” Klotzbach said.
The report also includes the probability of major hurricanes making landfall:
• 40 percent for the Caribbean (average for the last century is 42 percent)
• 50 percent for the entire U.S. coastline (average for the last century is 52 percent)
• 30 percent for the U.S. East Coast including the Florida peninsula (average for the last century is 31 percent)
• 29 percent for the Gulf Coast from the Florida panhandle westward to Brownsville (average for the last century is 30 percent)