Hurricane season starts Wednesday

The Atlantic Basin hurricane season officially begins Wednesday, but the second named storm of the year already made landfall over the weekend in the Southeast United States.

– Image: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
– Image: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Tropical Depression Bonnie made landfall near Charleston, South Carolina with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, after briefly being classified as a tropical storm. Forecasters expect the storm to slowly make its way up the coast, with heavy rains prompting flood warnings in the Carolinas through the long Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Cayman will not see any impacts from Bonnie, with the system far to the north. In fact, despite some rain showers in the days ahead, local forecasters say Cayman should see light winds and calm seas in the week ahead.

Hurricane season forecast

The National Hurricane Center in Miami Friday issued its prediction for the season, saying forecasters calculate a 70 percent chance of 10 to 16 named storms in the Atlantic. Releasing the report, Hurricane Center officials said they expect this year will likely be a “near-normal” year for big storms. But, the report notes, “Forecast uncertainty in the climate signals that influence the formation of Atlantic storms make predicting this season particularly difficult.”

The annual hurricane season projection this year predicts that of those 10 to 16 named storms, four to eight could become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or more. The forecasters said one to four storms could become major hurricanes – Category 3 or higher – with winds of at least 111 mph.

Lead hurricane forecaster with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center Gerry Bell said in a statement last week, “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.”

The U.S. forecasters say the El Niño system, warming waters in the Pacific Ocean, is dissipating. They say there’s a 70 percent chance that the system could be replaced by a La Niña system, which tends to increase tropical storm activity, during the late summer and fall peak of the hurricane season.

NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan said Friday during a conference call with reporters that there is “strong variability” in the global weather patterns that forecasters use to predict the hurricane season ahead. They’re not sure, she said, if these weather patterns will be “reinforcing each other or competing.”

The Atlantic Basin hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30 every year, with the peak – when there’s the most tropical cyclone activity – between August and October.