Stock up on your canned beans and galoshes, folks: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook dropped this morning, and for the first time in years, the weather monitoring agency is predicting more hurricanes than average.
Hurricane season, which kicks off next week and runs through the end of November, will see the development of 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine of which will reach hurricane status, NOAA predicts. To receive an official name, a tropical storm must feature windspeeds of 39 miles per hour or higher. To reach hurricane status, that storm needs to muster enough strength for sustained winds of 74 mph or higher, while major hurricanes (Category 3, 4, and 5) clock in with windspeeds starting at 111 mph. This season, NOAA predicts two to four of those giants, which carry the most destructive potential.
“The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Nino, near- or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region,” Gerry Bell, seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said in a statement.
Strong El Nino events tend to suppress Atlantic hurricane activity, by inhibiting the development of the thunderstorms that seed these cyclones. Meanwhile, warm sea surface temperatures mean more energy for passing storms to feed off, plus additional evaporation of water into an atmosphere that can hold more. These are some of the reasons scientists worry hurricanes could become more intense in a warming climate, although so far, the Atlantic basin hasn’t experienced a hurricane uptick clearly attributable to climate change.
While the 2017 Hurricane Season Outlook marks the first above-average hurricane season NOAA has anticipated since 2013, it’s worth noting that this is just a prediction. NOAA predicts a 35 percent chance of a near-normal season, and a 20 percent chance of a lower-than-average hurricane showing, so there’s still a considerable deal of uncertainty.
And historically, these predictions aren’t always right. Last year, NOAA predicted a near-normal hurricane season, but 2016 turned out to be a doozy, with seven hurricanes, four of which achieved major hurricane status. Most memorable of those, of course, was Hurricane Matthew, the record-smashing storm that intensified into a Category 5 in just 36 hours before proceeding to rampage across the Caribbean, laying waste to impoverished Haiti and prompting one of the largest evacuations in Florida’s history.
So, yes, hurricanes are scary, and we should be glad to have some of the best weather-monitoring infrastructure and brightest meteorologists in the world working to track them. Let’s try and keep it that way.