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Expect A "Near Normal" 2016 Hurricane Season

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NOAA
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 Just ahead of the start to the 2016 hurricane season in the Atlantic and Caribbean, near-normal conditions are predicted.

“Near-normal” is translated by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as 10 to 16 named storms, with four to eight hurricanes developing from them. Of the hurricanes, one to four are predicted to be major, with sustained winds at 111 miles an hour or higher.

“When you compare that to recent years of less activity, it may seem a little more active, and as always, it only takes one storm to make it active for you if it happens to impact you or your community,” said Jeff Huffman, a meteorologist at the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network based in Gainesville.

New for this year is a warning system, which could predict a hurricane’s storm surge before the actual flooding. Rolled out earlier this month by NOAA, it’s said to be accurate enough to pinpoint the strength and range of a storm surge days before making landfall.

“Hurricane warnings have always been issued based on wind speed and where those hurricane-force winds might go,” said Huffman. “Where the hurricane-force winds are, and where the deadly storm surge occurs are not always in the exact same spot.”

One obstacle in developing the new system, says Huffman, has been the lack of hurricanes and tropical storms in Florida for the past decade, which in turn has meant a lack of opportunities to make sure it works properly.

“I think the science, though, is really on-point, and we’ve already seen a couple of small examples with Hurricane Arthur [in 2014] and the most recent tropical storms that have come ashore in the last couple of years,” Huffman says. “Evidence is there that the system is working, but operationally it’s not going to be fully rolled out until next year once they have a few more chances to test it.”

A second product being tested is “Coyote:” a disposable drone first dropped into the eye of Hurricane Edouard off the Atlantic coast in 2014, providing scientists an unprecedented trove of data on the movement and intensity of the storm.

Another challenge for developers is that nothing has remained the same along the coastlines since the last active hurricane years for Florida in 2004 and 2005.

“A lot of new development, the terrain has changed, and they’ve actually used some of the mitigation money from those very active years, to improve the storm surge accuracy predictions that we have today,” said Huffman.

When it comes to building a better mousetrap, in this case better ways to forecast storms and get that information to the public, development never sleeps. But FPREN’s Jeff Huffman says forecasting and informing actually are not related.

“Sometimes the more accurate we try to become and the more technology and the more pieces that we try to throw at somebody in terms of helping them understand what’s going on, sometimes the message can get clouded,” said Huffman. “So we’re always looking at both the forecasting aspect of weather, and how we communicate it.”

And that leads to Wednesday’s exercise by FPREN and its member stations, including WUWF.

“We’re going to make sure that we are ready, just like we ask everybody else to be ready,” said Huffman. After Wednesday’s kickoff, the Atlantic Basin hurricane season runs through November 30.