A man and a hurricane, north of Miami Beach, Sept. 1947. From NOAA's National Weather Service Collection.
North America could face an onslaught of hurricanes this year, and counting on favorable winds to steer them away like in 2010 would be a folly, according to a new analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The government’s 2011 hurricane outlook for the Atlantic Ocean is a bit fuzzier on the numbers than previous private-sector outlooks. But it falls into agreement with them that this hurricane season, defined as June 1 to Nov. 1, is likely to throw cyclone after cyclone our way. Specifically, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is calling for 12 to 18 named storms with 6 to 10 becoming hurricanes. Of that number, three to six could be major hurricanes hurling winds of 111 m.p.h. and greater. The seasonal average is 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
Here’s what NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco had to say about the outlook:
“The United States was fortunate last year. Winds steered most of the season’s tropical storms and all hurricanes away from our coastlines. However we can’t count on luck to get us through this season. We need to be prepared, especially with this above-normal outlook.”
The 2010 hurricane season as seen in time lapse. (NOAA)
This vision of an angry ocean is based on several climatic variables: tepid waters that feed hurricane growth (the Atlantic is about 2 degrees warmer than average right now); lower wind sheer caused by La Nina that allows hurricanes to form; a “tropical multi-decadal signal” that has led to a pattern of popping hurricane seasons since 1995. The outlook doesn’t, and shouldn’t, say anything about how many landfalls there could be, as those dangerous occurrences are difficult to predict far in advance. We’ll just have to let nature surprise us.
Here are the private-sector outlooks released so far:
Colorado State University: 16 tropical storms, nine hurricanes, five major hurricanes.
Accuweather: 15 named storms, eight hurricanes, three major hurricanes.
Earth Networks: 13 to 14 named storms; seven to eight hurricanes; 3 or 4 major hurricanes.