With hurricane season beginning on June 1, predictions are being released by several top meteorologists and universities. The hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30, though early or late storms are not unusual. The busiest time for hurricane development is August when weather conditions encourage formation.
In December 2009 Dr. Gray of the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University predicted an above average season for 2010. Two months ago in April Dr. Gray updated his predictions. In his paper “Extended Range Forecast of Atlantic Seasonal Hurricane Activity and Landfall Strike Probability for 2010” from April 7th, he stated “We have increased our seasonal forecast … due to a combination of anomalous warming of Atlantic tropical sea surface temperatures and a more confident view that the current El Niño will weaken.” Dr. Gray goes on to predict 15 named storms (hurricanes and tropical storms), 8 hurricanes of which 4 will be major hurricanes. The probability models show that there is a 69% chance that a major hurricane will hit the US coast, a 45% chance a major hurricane will strike the East Coast including Florida, and a 44% one will strike the Gulf Coast.
In past years meteorologists have predicted above average hurricane seasons like they are predicting for 2010. These predictions are not unfallible, however. Predictions are made based on the models from previous years’ atmospheric conditions and tracked storms. The data used in these computer models dates back 50 years and is continuously updated to provide the most accurate prediction. Atmospheric conditions include ENSO – El Nino and La Nina – sea surface temperatures and the tropical multi-decade signal. Because of all of these factors scientists prefer to call their forecasts “predictions” rather than certainties or fact and ask citizens who may be affected by tropical storms or hurricanes to be prepared and vigilant during hurricane season.
On May 27, 2010 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its hurricane outlook for 2010. According to the press release, “NOAA’s 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook calls for an 85% chance of an above normal season.” NOAA goes on to estimate 14-23 named storms, 8-14 hurricanes, and 3-7 major hurricanes. The Hurricane Season Outlook does not predict landfall probabilities, and NOAA is quick to point out that the track of each storm will be determined by daily weather patterns.
Accuweather.com Hurricane Center’s chief long-range meteorologist, Joe Bastardi, made similar predictions on April 8th. For the 2010 Western Atlantic hurricane season, he is calling for 16-18 named storms, 15 of which will form in the western Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico. He is also predicting seven landfalls, five hurricanes and 2-3 major hurricanes making landfall.
One final source of hurricane predictions is the Old Farmers’ Almanac. For 218 years the Almanac has been predicting the following year’s weather. In September 2009 when the 2010 Almanac went on sale, its predictions didn’t jibe with the National Weather Service. The Almanac predicted a colder-than-usual winter while the NWS predicted a milder-than-usual winter. Judging the snow fall in the Deep South and Florida, and the blizzards in the Northeast and Midwest, the past winter favored the Almanac’s prediction. For the 2010 hurricane season, the Almanac says, “Specifically, watch out for an active Florida season as well as a hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast and a late-August hurricane along the Atlantic Corridor.” It also specifically says a hurricane will hit Florida in September.
Hurricane predictions carry importance every year for all of the thousands of residents who live in hurricane-prone areas, for the emergency management systems in those areas, and for the people who make a living in the areas where hurricanes are most likely to strike. In 2010, the hurricane predictions carry extra weight as residents of the Gulf Coast wait for the oil leak to be capped. Many fear a strong hurricane season, not for the destruction a major hurricane could bring to their coastal towns but for the catastrophic spread of oil even a small tropical storm can cause.