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NOAA: Busier Hurricane Season Originally Projected

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At the midway point of the 2016 hurricane season in the Atlantic and Caribbean, forecasters are adjusting the numbers on the odds of an active season. They now expect the strongest season since 2012. 

Gerry Bell, lead forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, says the outlook now calls for 12 to 17 named storms, 5 to 8 expected to develop into hurricanes and of those, 2 to 4 Category-3 or stronger.

“We’re just getting into the peak of the season right now, August, September and October,” said Bell. “So we’re still expecting quite a bit of activity for the remainder of the season.” 

Those numbers are up from the original forecast of 10 to 16 named storms, four to eight hurricanes and one to four major hurricanes. Bell says there are several conditions now in place across the tropical Atlantic that suggest a more active season – with a couple of them standing out.

“The first is weaker vertical windshear – how the wind speed and direction change as you go up through the atmosphere,” said Bell. “And when the windshear is weaker than average – meaning less change in winds – that’s very conducive for tropical storms and hurricanes to form.”  

The second factor is a stronger West African monsoon, which sets up more conducive wind patterns across the Atlantic, and allows cloud systems from African to strengthen more quickly. 

An online media report this week carried the sub-headline, “El Niño is dead and we should be mourning.” Bell says the phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean – which affects weather in the Atlantic and Caribbean -- actually went away a few weeks ago after suppressing hurricane activity in 2015.

If a La Nina, the opposite of El Nino, develops, the expectation from NOAA is that it would be weak and given current conditions not have much of an impact either way. But Bell concedes the climate patterns do not give reliable data on where the storms may strike.

“And that’s why NOAA doesn’t issue a landfall forecast,” Bell said. “Where a storm strikes, how strong it is when it strikes, all that depends on the weather patterns in place at the time the storm’s approaching.”

So far in 2016, there have been five named storms.

Hurricane Alex in January stayed at sea. Tropical Storm Bonnie hit South Carolina on Memorial Day weekend. Two other tropical storms, Colin and Danielle, hit the eastern Florida panhandle and Mexico, respectively, in June. And Earl, a Category-1 hurricane, hit Belize earlier this month.