There are times when "below average" is good. For a hurricane season, it's definitely a nice thing to hear.
And this year, the odds are stacking up that North America will have a hurricane season marked by below-average activity in the Atlantic Ocean, according to an assessment from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. In the average year, the Atlantic is scoured by three major hurricanes plus six lesser ones and 12 named storms. But government forecasters are predicting that this coming season, which lasts from June 1 to November 30, will see one or two behemoths with winds of 111 mph or faster, three to six weaker hurricanes, and eight to 13 named storms.
For those who like their info in graphical form, here's the breakdown from NOAA. Note the 50 percent probability of below-normal 'caning:
There are a couple things that indicate 2014 could be a weak year for eastern tempests. One is the expected development of El Niño in the summer or early fall, a warming of Pacific waters that historically tends to decrease activity over in the Atlantic. (Researchers believe it's because El Niño ratchets up wind shear over the Caribbean and Atlantic, and shear impairs hurricanes' ability to develop.) There's also the fact that the Atlantic is relatively cool right now, and hurricanes thrive on the energy sent up by warmer waters.
Just because the cards suggest fewer hurricanes this year isn't an automatic cause for celebration, though. As NOAA points out, landfall is a tricky thing to predict, as a hurricane's movements in the crucial days it's near coastline is largely determined by transient weather patterns:
It only takes one storm hitting an area to cause a disaster, regardless of the overall activity predicted in the seasonal outlook. Therefore, residents, businesses, and government agencies of coastal and near-coastal regions are urged to prepare every hurricane season regardless of this, or any other, seasonal outlook.
Predicting where and when hurricanes will strike is related to daily weather patterns, which are not reliably predictable weeks or months in advance. Therefore, it is currently not possible to accurately predict the number or intensity of landfalling hurricanes at these extended ranges, or whether a particular locality will be impacted by a hurricane this season.
If one of these beasts does come roaring toward your community this year, the National Hurricane Center is releasing a new tool that allows you to map the worst-case scenario for the attendant storm surge. You can read more about it here.
Top image: A Hurricane Hunter jet flies inside the eye of Katrina. Bottom: Hurricane Isabel in 2003 as seen from the International Space Station.