Scientists say it's too early to tell whether Atlantic water temperatures are entering a cooling phase, which could usher in decades of reduced storm intensity.
NEW YORK (Talk Media News) – The 2016 Atlantic hurricane season is likely to see “near normal” storm activity, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Friday.
The NOAA forecast anticipates the formation of 10-16 tropical storms, 4-8 hurricanes and 1-4 major hurricanes of category 3 or higher.
“Near normal may sound sort of encouraging, relaxed, things are okay,” said NOAA Administrator Katheryn Sullivan, “but I want to emphasis that the predicted level of activity, compared to the last three years that we’ve experienced, actually suggests we could be in for more activity than we’ve seen in recent years.”
A “near normal” forecast is NOAA’s middle ground designation for a storm season, and by a slight margin, the agency said a confluence of factors were more likely to skew toward stronger than normal season as the year progresses.
Among those factors is a multi-year shift toward cooler Atlantic ocean temperatures which has accompanied three successive weaker-than-expected hurricane seasons. NOAA forecasters aren’t certain yet whether the cooler waters signify a new “cool phase” of the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation, but if they do, that could mean several decades of weaker seasons.
A potentially competing factor is the shift from an El Niño pattern to a La Niña pattern, which Sullivan said “favors more hurricane activity” in the Atlantic.
“There are some potentially competing or potentially reinforcing factors that make this year more uncertain than others,” she said.
The number and severity of storms is not necessarily an indicator of the damage they’ll cause, cautioned little bearing on their severity, cautioned Gerry Bell, NOAA’s hurricane climate specialist.
“You can have tremendous damage even if the storm is not a major status,” he said, citing the flooding damage caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012. Hurricane Sandy is estimated to be the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane on record, despite making landfall over New Jersey as a Category 1 storm.