Now that the seasons have changed and temperatures are finally warming up, our attention turns from the north to the east where trouble could soon be looming. Wednesday, hurricane gurus from Colorado State University -- Dr. William Gray and Dr. Phil Klotzbach -- released their 2013 hurricane season predictions, and it looks to be a busy one.
Forecasters are calling for 18 named storms. Nine of those named storms could become hurricanes of which four could be major hurricanes (Categories 3, 4 or 5). That forecast is above the climatological average of 12 storms, seven hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
The reason for such a busy season is based on a couple of factors: anomalously high sea surface temperatures, weaker vertical wind shear and the unlikely prospect of a developing El Nino. Per forecasters, there is also an enhanced risk of a major hurricane(s) hitting the United States.
Per the CSU report released Wednesday, the entire U.S. coast has a 72 percent chance of being hit by a major hurricane. The average for the last century was 52 percent. The U.S. East Coast, including the Florida peninsula, has a 48 percent chance of being nailed, which is above the 31 percent average of the last century. The Gulf Coast, stretching from the Florida panhandle to Brownsville, Texas, has a 47 percent chance of being hit, up from the 30 percent average over the last century.
This forecast comes on the heels of a less-than-stellar forecast in 2012, when nearly twice as many storms formed as the CSU team predicted.
So why issue these forecasts and are they any good? Colorado State has this to say:
"Everyone should realize that it is impossible to precisely predict this season’s hurricane activity in early April. There is, however, much curiosity as to how global ocean and atmosphere features are presently arranged as regards to the probability of an active or inactive hurricane season for the coming year. Our new early April statistical forecast methodology shows strong evidence over 29 past years that significant improvement over climatology can be attained. We would never issue a seasonal hurricane forecast unless we had a statistical model developed over a long hindcast period which showed significant skill over climatology.
We issue these forecasts to satisfy the curiosity of the general public and to bring attention to the hurricane problem. There is a general interest in knowing what the odds are for an active or inactive season. One must remember that our forecasts are based on the premise that those global oceanic and atmospheric conditions which preceded comparatively active or inactive hurricane seasons in the past provide meaningful information about similar trends in future seasons. This is not always true for individual seasons. It is also important that the reader appreciate that these seasonal forecasts are based on statistical schemes which, owing to their intrinsically probabilistic nature, will fail in some years. Moreover, these forecasts do not specifically predict where within the Atlantic basin these storms will strike. The probability of landfall for any one location along the coast is very low and reflects the fact that, in any one season, most U.S. coastal areas will not feel the effects of a hurricane no matter how active the individual season is."
In some years the seasonal forecasts are good and others not so much. For example last year (2012), the April prediction was 10 named storms. The final count was 19. It's important to remember that the Atlantic has the highest variability of any tropical region in the world. This is illustrated nicely by comparing such seasons as 1983 that saw only four named storms the entire year (the bellwether being Hurricane Alicia) with the 2005 season which had 28 named storms--notoriously Katrina, Rita and Wilma; all of which made landfall as major hurricanes.
It's important to remember that it only takes one hurricane to hit your house to make it a bad season. While Jacksonville isn't hit with the frequency of other coastal communities, we found that we are not safe. The 2012 hurricane season got kicked off early, at the end of May, when near hurricane force Beryl hit Jax Beach head on---one of only a handful of storms ever to do so. We were then side-swiped by Tropical Storm Debby which swamped northern Florida with as much as 20 inches of rainfall in some locations. Therefore it is important to be ready to act when hurricane season starts.
Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.