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Normal hurricane season forecast for 2019; four to eight hurricanes expected

The Atlantic Ocean and residents along its coasts and on its islands face a relatively normal hurricane season in 2019, according to projections from a variety of forecasters.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced their outlook Thursday for the coming season, which they anticipate will see between nine to 15 named storms.

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Of those storms, they forecast about four to eight are expected to become hurricanes, meaning they have winds of 74 mph or higher, and two to four storms are expected to reach a Category 3 or higher.

Hurricane season officially begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30, but this year got off to an early start. A subtropical storm southwest of Bermuda formed Monday night, earning the name Andrea, but dissipated less than 24 hours later.

NOAA’s 2019 outlook covers activity in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. It does not predict how many of the storms will strike land, and there was no specific forecast for Maryland.

The state experienced record-breaking rainfall last year, in part because of an unusually stormy summer.

NOAA’s forecast is in line with those of other meteorologists.

The Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University is calling for 13 named storms, five of them becoming hurricanes. Two of the hurricanes could reach “major” strength, with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 mph, the meteorologists said.

Tropical cyclones are named when they have maximum sustained winds of at least 39 mph. The names come from a World Meteorological Organization list last updated in 2013, and this year include Chantal, Fernand and Humberto.

For-profit meteorology companies suggested potential for more activity. The Weather Company, which operates the Weather Channel, is predicting 14 named storms, including seven hurricanes, three of them becoming major hurricanes. AccuWeather.com forecasts a range of activity, with 12 to 14 named storms, five to seven of them becoming hurricanes and two to four of those becoming major storms.

This hurricane season’s forecast is made more complicated by a weak episode of El Niño that began in February and is forecast to continue through the heart of tropical cyclone season, in August, September and October.

El Niño is a global web of climate patterns tied to warmer-than-normal surface water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. It can trigger drought in some areas and flooding in others, and in the Atlantic basin, it is associated with what is known as wind shear — when wind speeds and directions vary at different levels of the lower atmosphere.

High wind shear tends to discourage development of tropical cyclones, or to disintegrate storms that have already formed. Cyclones need warm water for energy, and low wind shear to organize and strengthen into towering, swirling storms with defined eyes at their centers.

In addition, water temperatures are relatively warm throughout the Atlantic basin, potentially countering the effect of wind shear and encouraging tropical cyclones to form.

It’s difficult to predict how those conditions will interact, said Paul Walker, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.com

“We’ve got competing factors,” Walker said. “While we may get the same number of storms, or a slightly above-normal number of storms, the wind shear might keep them from getting real strong.”

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But there is still the possibility of “deep intensification” with some storms, Walker said.

Based on climate conditions heading into the storm season, meteorologists say this year could be similar to 1969. With a dozen hurricanes, including Camille, one of only three Category 5 storms to strike the U.S., that was the fourth-most active Atlantic hurricane season on record.

While that may sound ominous, the hurricane researchers at Colorado State are predicting slightly below-average chances of hurricane landfalls along the U.S. coastline.

They predicted 28% chances of major hurricane striking on East Coast, about equal to the chances along the Gulf Coast. That compares to 39% chances for the Caribbean.

While Maryland frequently has to deal with tropical cyclones, only two hurricanes have ever made landfall directly on the state’s coastline, according to the researchers. That translates to about a 1% chance of a hurricane making landfall here in any given year.

Still, a storm doesn’t have to make landfall here to wreak havoc.

Hurricanes Isabel and Irene, in 2003 and 2011, respectively, both made landfall in North Carolina before sweeping north over Maryland, producing hundreds of thousands of power outages and widespread flooding.

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy was not technically a hurricane when it made landfall in New Jersey but nonetheless caused major flooding in Crisfield.

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