Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

New Hurricane Outlook Shows Increased Chance of Storms

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The sun rises behind the Storm Memorial in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike on September 18, 2008 in Galveston, Texas. The sculpture was dedicated to remember the 6,000 killed when a hurricane hit the island in 1900.

Texas finds itself in the peculiar position of needing just the right storms this summer. Perhaps a light tropical depression that would bring rain to the parched parts of the state, but not bring damage to the coast. So it’s with a keen eye that the state looks to the updated summer hurricane forecast out this morning.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center says we may have a “busy second half” of the summer for hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin. “The updated outlook still indicates a 50 percent chance of a near-normal season,” the agency writes on its site today. But there’s a 35 percent chance of an above-normal season.

The agency predicts anywhere from five to eight hurricanes this season (including the ones we’ve already seen, Chris and Ernesto), and anywhere from twelve to seventeen named storms (with winds that reach 39 mph or higher). Of those hurricanes, two or three of them could be “major,” NOAA says, which means category three or higher, with winds of at least 111 mph (Chris and Ernesto were both category one).

So why did NOAA increase the odds of major storms from their initial outlook in May?

“We are increasing the likelihood of an above-normal season because storm-conducive wind patterns and warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures are now in place in the Atlantic,” Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center, says on the website. “These conditions are linked to the ongoing high activity era for Atlantic hurricanes that began in 1995. Also, strong early-season activity is generally indicative of a more active season.”

The numbers are higher from the initial outlook in May, which called for 9-15 named storms, 4-8 hurricanes and 1-3 major hurricanes. Based on a 30-year average, a normal Atlantic hurricane season produces 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.

And with the increased chance of storms comes the potential for drought relief for Texas. Victor Murphy of the National Weather Service told us last month that “a tropical cyclone or at the very least a tropical disturbance” would be “the only shot for significant widespread improvement until the fall.” The downside, Murphy said, is that there is often no way to confirm that a storm is headed toward Texas until, at most, a week out from its landing.

But there’s the obvious danger as well. “Hurricanes often bring dangerous inland flooding as we saw a year ago in the Northeast with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. Even people who live hundreds of miles from the coast need to remain vigilant through the remainder of the season,” Laura Furgione, acting director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, says in the report.

The new report also has a silver lining. As predicted, the El Nino weather pattern, which generally results in cooler, wetter conditions for Texas, is likely returning this fall, as soon as this month. Depending how early it arrives, it could also help suppress storm development, but forecasters aren’t counting on it.

To learn more about how you can prepare for a hurricane, you can visit www.ready.gov


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