Every year when hurricane season comes around, climatologists and meteorologists give their best hypotheses on how many storms will churn up in the Atlantic Ocean. In the past, some have indicated an especially busy year, while others less so – sometimes in the same year. Time, as it always does, tells the true tale.
As for this year, there appears to be a consensus: a return to normalcy, or at least close to it.
Over the past three years, hurricanes making landfall have been fairly few and far between. Going back to 2005, in fact, not a single major hurricane has reached the U.S., the last one being Hurricane Wilma. That said, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted with a 70% degree of confidence that between 10 and 16 named storms will develop between June 1 and Nov. 30.
Coming to similar conclusions are forecasters from Colorado State University, who predicted 12 named storms will take shape along the Atlantic over the six-month stretch – six strong enough to be classified as hurricanes, three of them major.
To be named, tropical storms have to produce sustained winds of 39 miles per hour or higher. To reach hurricane capacity, wind gusts must be at or above 74 mph. Major hurricanes are Category 3 or higher, with winds clocking at 111 mph or more.
NOAA's estimates are in the same ballpark as CSU's, forecasting between four and eight hurricanes, with one to four reaching major status.
Consensus aside, uncertainty persists
Despite the general agreement, arriving at this calculation wasn't easy for Gerry Bell, Ph.D. and Lead Seasonal Hurricane Forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
"This is a more challenging hurricane season outlook than most because it's difficult to determine whether there will be reinforcing or competing climate influences on tropical storm development," Bell explained. "However, a near-normal prediction for this season suggests we could see more hurricane activity than we've seen in the last three years, which were below normal."
He added that the weather phenomenon known as El Nino also muddies the waters. Occurring every few years, El Nino's grip on the atmosphere is diminishing, and there's a chance that La Nina will fill the vacuum that it leaves behind. Should that happen, more hurricanes than the 10-16 anticipated could develop.
Klotzbach confirmed Bell's hesitancy, indicating in CSU's report that La Nina is ultimately the one holding the deck as to how busy the hurricane season turns out.
Regardless of how accurate NOAA or CSU climatologists turn out to be, even one bad storm can make an otherwise inactive hurricane season devastating, warned Federal Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director Joseph Nimmich.
"Preparing for the worst can keep you, your family, and first responders out of harm's way," Nimmich said. "Take steps today to be prepared: develop a family communications plan, build an emergency supply kit for your home, and make sure you and your family know your evacuation route. These small steps can help save your life when disaster strikes."
How you can become 'hurricane ready'
The internet is chock full of some great websites that you and your family can use to prepare for whatever Mother Nature has up her sleeves this summer. Ready.gov, as an example, has an assortment of subsections detailing what to do to effectively prepare your home just in case a hurricane threatens or if one is all but imminent. It also has tips on what to do in the aftermath once the storm passes through.
You may also want to check out the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety's homepage. In addition to basic tips on hurricane readiness for your home, it offers suggestions on how to keep your business protected.