FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- A federal hurricane forecast issued Thursday calls for a near-normal season this year, with four to eight hurricanes and up to 15 storms powerful enough to be given names.
The forecast represents a potential decrease from the eight hurricanes seen last year and possible sharp decline from the 10 that appeared in the catastrophic season of 2017.
The National Oceanic Administration's Climate Prediction Center, which released the forecast, said two to four of the hurricanes are likely to be major hurricanes, which means Category 3 or higher, producing winds of at least 111 miles per hour. The prediction calls for nine to 15 named storms, which means ones with wind speeds of at least 39 miles per hour.
"It looks at this time that a near-normal season is most likely," said Gerry Bell, lead hurricane season forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "But in my view, that's still a lot of activity. Nine to 15 named storms is a lot. Four to eight hurricanes is a lot. Two to four major hurricanes is a lot.
"So the key message is we're expecting a near-normal season, but regardless, that's a lot of activity. You need to start getting prepared for the hurricane season now."
NOAA said there was a 40% chance of a near-normal season, a 30% chance of an above-normal season and a 30% chance of a below-normal season.
The agency cited competing factors. Warmer ocean temperatures and a stronger African monsoon season favor more hurricanes. But the persistence of the weather phenomenon called El Nino favors fewer storms.
El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean that can affect weather around the world. El Nino tends to suppress hurricane formation by fostering high-level crosswinds called wind shear that tear up incipient tropical cyclones, preventing them from establishing their characteristic rotating structure.
Hurricane season runs June 1 through Nov. 30, with the peak coming in August and September. The season got an early start this week with Subtropical Storm Andrea, which formed Monday and dissipated a day later without coming near land.
The NOAA prediction released Thursday agrees with other recent predictions for the season.
Colorado State University's forecast in early April called for five hurricanes this season. AccuWeather, a private company, predicted five to seven hurricanes. More hurricane season predictions will be issued in the coming weeks, with a new wave issued prior to the season's peak.
AccuWeather said this week that its predictions for hurricane season have not changed. AccuWeather Atlantic Hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski said a few particular locations, where ocean temperatures are particularly warm, should be watched for possible tropical systems early in the season.
These include the areas east of Bermuda, off the southeastern coast of the United States and in parts of the Gulf of Mexico.
Although the federal prediction calls for a near-normal season, even a quiet season can bring a devastating storm. Every forecaster's favorite example is Hurricane Andrew, which struck South Florida during an otherwise uneventful 1992 season.
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