NOAA issues pessimistic forecast as Atlantic enters peak hurricane season

©Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The federal government issued a pessimistic new forecast for hurricane season Thursday, increasing its prediction for the number of expected storms.

The forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls for:

— 19 to 25 named storms, which means tropical storms and hurricanes. The preseason forecast had called for 13 to 19.

— Seven to 11 to hurricanes, up from six to 10 in the previous forecast.

— Three to six major hurricanes with wind speeds of at least 111 mph, as previously forecast.

“This year, we expect more, stronger, and longer-lived storms than average,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

An average season produces 12 named storms, including six hurricanes, of which three are major. This season has already produced two hurricanes and is on track to become one of the most active in recorded history, an unwelcome development at a time of unprecedented health and economic challenges.

“We’ve never forecast up to 25 named storms,” Bell said in a telephone news conference Thursday morning. “So this is the first time.”

But conditions are not more conducive to hurricanes than they turned out to be in 2005, the record-setting season that produced 28 named storms, including Hurricane Wilma and Hurricane Katrina, Bell said.

“2005 was more conducive to more hurricanes than what we’re seeing now,” Bell said. “That’s why we’re not predicting a record hurricane season at this time.”

The sheer number of storms forecast raises the possibility that National Hurricane Center will run out of its assigned names this year and have to resort to the use of Greek letters, a development that last happened in 2005.

The NOAA forecast was close to a prediction issued this week by Colorado State University, which called for 12 hurricanes, up from an earlier prediction of nine.

NOAA issues a forecast before the June 1 start of the season and before the peak, a period that runs from mid-August through October. The peak, considered a “season within a season,” produces the majority of hurricanes and the vast majority of major hurricanes.

During this period, which tops out around Sept. 10, patches of stormy weather regularly roll off the African coast and drift across the Atlantic, some dissipating, others forming tropical storms and hurricanes.

Two major factors account for the abundance of hurricanes during this period: Warm ocean temperatures and a reduction in wind shear, the high-level changes in wind direction that can tear up systems of stormy weather before they can form hurricanes. Both these factors are expected to be especially favorable for the production of tropical storms and hurricanes this year.

Another factor may be the presence of a climate phenomenon called La Niña. The opposite of the better-known El Niño, this is a cooling of the eastern Pacific Ocean that tends to suppress wind shear over the Atlantic, making it easier for hurricanes to form without interference.

The 2020 season is already off at a record-setting pace, having already produced nine named storms, including two hurricanes. The season so far is in line with the consensus of early forecasts, which said to expect a busy season.

There is currently little storm activity over the Atlantic basin. The remnants of Hurricane Isaias were expected to dissipate Thursday over Canada. Forecasters are watching a small area of stormy weather southwest of Bermuda. Although they expect it to drift southwest toward the Bahamas, they give it a near-zero chance of strengthening over the next five days.