Forecasts call for an active hurricane season. Could California see another Hilary?

Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

LOS ANGELES — Near-record ocean temperatures and a strengthening La Niña could spell trouble for the East Coast of the United States, with federal forecasters warning of an 85% chance of above-normal Atlantic hurricane activity this year, and predicting as many as 25 named storms.

“All the ingredients are definitely in place to have an active season,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service, during a recent briefing. “It’s reason to be concerned, of course, but not alarmed. We need to use this time to our advantage to really be prepared for the hurricane season.”

But conditions on the West Coast may be calmer than last year, when a rare storm swirled off the coast of Baja California before making landfall in early August. By the time it reached Southern California, Hurricane Hilary had been downgraded to a post-tropical low, yet it still wrought some devastation.

In Mexico, Hilary damaged or destroyed at least 87 homes as it dropped more than a foot of rain in northern portions of Baja California Sur. The storm also prompted the first-ever tropical storm watches and warnings issued in Southern California, where it broke several daily rainfall records, washed out streets, damaged homes and caused widespread power outages, among other issues.

The good news is this season’s outlook appears quieter for California and the West. The forecast for the eastern Pacific hurricane season indicates a 60% chance of a below-normal storm activity, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That includes an estimated 11 to 17 named storms, with four to nine of those storms developing into hurricanes. Between one and four of those could turn into major hurricanes — category 3, 4 or 5 — with winds of 111 mph or higher.


The numbers are below normal for the eastern Pacific basin, which typically averages 15 named storms and eight hurricanes in a season. The active 2023 eastern Pacific hurricane season saw 17 named storms, including Hilary and nine other hurricanes.

NOAA officials said the rosier outlook is in part because of the anticipated development of La Niña later this year.

The climate pattern in the tropical Pacific is associated with cooler, drier conditions in Southern California and is major driver of weather patterns across the world. The odds of eastern Pacific storms are much higher when it its counterpart, El Niño, is present — as was the case when Hilary hit last year.

But El Niño is waning, with a transition to neutral conditions likely in the coming weeks. There is a 49% that La Niña will develop in June or August, and a 69% chance it will develop between July and September, according to NOAA.


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