There is now a 90 percent probability that this year’s hurricane season will be below normal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s updated 2015 Atlantic hurricane season outlook.
NOAA’s pre-season hurricane outlook for the region, released in May, had predicted a 70 percent chance that this year’s season would be below normal. The updated outlook was released last week.
The agency now predicts that the Atlantic hurricane region, which includes the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the north Atlantic Ocean, is expected to see only between six and 10 named storms this year. This includes the three named storms (Ana, Bill and Claudette) that have already formed in the Atlantic region to date. One to four of these storms are expected to become hurricanes, but it is unlikely that any will become a major hurricane.
For comparison, a near-normal hurricane season typically has in the range of 10 to 15 tropical storms and four to nine hurricanes.
According to NOAA, this means there could be a record low number of hurricanes this year, surpassing the previous records set in 1982 and 2013.
One factor contributing to this below-normal season is El Niño, a warming weather pattern that shows up every few years and affects global weather systems, NOAA scientists say. It has strengthened this year and is predicted to continue throughout the remainder of the hurricane season. Atmospheric conditions associated with El Niño include a strong vertical wind shear and enhanced sinking motion across the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean Sea, which make it difficult for hurricanes to develop.
Additionally, sea surface temperatures across the region in which Atlantic hurricanes develop are predicted to remain below average. These cooler temperatures are associated with stronger trade winds, which further suppress hurricane formation.
Nevertheless, forecasters and hazard management officials stress that people living in areas that can be affected by hurricanes should remain vigilant. According to NOAA’s updated outlook, tropical storms and hurricanes can strike even in below-normal seasons, and it only takes one to cause significant damage.
“Regardless of our call for below-normal storm activity, people along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts should remain prepared and vigilant, especially now that the peak months of the hurricane season have started,” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said in a press release.
Simon Boxall, awareness communications officer for Hazard Management Cayman Islands, said it is best to “err on the side of caution” when businesses and lives are at stake.
He said that while the outlook is cause for some optimism, “we strongly caution people against letting their guard down.”
“We are vulnerable to a range of hazards, including earthquakes, tsunamis, heavy rains and floods,” Mr. Boxall said. “We live in an area where it behooves residents to prepare.”
Mr. Boxall said people should take basic precautions, such as having a supply of nonperishable foods, water, batteries and a battery-powered radio. He says that is a kit “every resident should have, not just in hurricane season, but all year long.”
The Atlantic hurricane season runs between June 1 and Nov. 30.