From the ABC 7 Weather team

More hurricanes, more landfalls, says new 2011 hurricane outlook

May 13, 2011 - 06:00 AM
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Time to buy plywood and bottled water? Three hurricane outlooks predict an above-average number of hurricanes in 2011 and a heightened risk of landfall.

The eyewall of Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 28, 2005, as viewed from a NOAA Hurrican Hunter aircraft.

A new hurricane outlook suggests that the Atlantic Ocean will be stuck in the spin cycle this year, with a high number of hurricanes flying out of warm ocean waters.

Over at Earth Networks, the company that owns WeatherBug, meteorologists are predicting that 13 to 14 named storms will form in the Atlantic Hurricane Basin in 2011. (Full disclosure: ABC7 is a WeatherBug client.) Of those storms, seven to eight will swell into full-fledged hurricanes, say the meteorologists, and about half of those will grow into powerfully dangerous systems with winds topping 111 m.p.h.

Put that estimate next to the numbers for an average hurricane season and you’ll see that this hypothetical season is much more active than we're used to.

A typical hurricane season, defined as June 1 through Nov. 30, has 10 tropical storms becoming six hurricanes, with two or three bloating into major cyclones.

The Earth Networks’ outlook is still a drop from 2010’s season, which tied with 1995 and 1887 for the third-highest cyclone activity on record, with 19 named storms and 12 hurricanes (five of them major, although none touched land). So what’s causing the less-enthusiastic outlook this year? According to Earth Networks senior meteorologist Julie Gaddy:

“While water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean are warmer than average in key tropical cyclone development areas, they are not as warm as last year. La Niña conditions, which usually favor the formation of tropical storms, are forecasted to weaken throughout the summer. Neutral conditions are expected during the prime hurricane months from August through October. However, tropical systems can form at any time during the season.”

The meteorologists also factored in the abnormally bustling hurricane seasons of late – there’s been a pattern of heightened activity over the last dozen years. And while it’s impossible to predict how many of these rotating behemoths could reach D.C.’s Key Bridge breakpoint, the meteorologists say there are climatological similarities between 2011 and hurricane-stricken years like 2008 and 1996 that had a greater number of landfalls. That's slightly worrying. But it’s worth saying it again: There is no great way to predict hurricane landfalls this far ahead of the game.

Earth Networks’ vision of a bustling 2011 season jibes with two other prognoses. Take a look:

Accuweather’s outlook (released March 30): 15 named tropical storms, eight hurricanes, three major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher. This outlook predicts higher landfall probabilities in Texas, Louisiana, the Florida Peninsula and the Carolinas.

Colorado State University’s outlook (updated April 6): 16 tropical storms, nine hurricanes, five major hurricanes. The university gives a 72 percent chance that at least one major hurricane will make land somewhere on the U.S. coast.

NOAA's outlook comes out next week, and it should be interesting to see if the government agrees with these private-sector folk. While you’re waiting for that forecast to be released, why not read a little about why these outlooks should always be taken with a grain of sea salt?

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