Forecasters update Atlantic hurricane predictions as peak of season approaches

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Satellite image of Hurricane Earl, the most recent named storm of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season. Courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Satellite image of Hurricane Earl, the most recent named storm of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season. Courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

WILMINGTON – Forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have updated their 2016 Atlantic hurricane season predictions, increasing the number of named storms they expect this year.

Their initial prediction, made in May, said there was a 70 percent chance of 10 to 16 named storms this year. The new update predicts a 70 percent chance of 12 to 17 named storms before season’s end on Nov. 30. The chance of having an “above normal” hurricane season has also increased from 30 to 35 percent.

“The strong El Niño we had is pretty much gone now,” said Stephen Keebler, a forecaster at the National Weather Service’s office in Wilmington. “That produced more wind shear, which makes it harder for tropical cyclones to form. We’re not officially in La Niña yet, but we’re moving toward it, and that favors more tropical activity.”

Though the two weather phenomena Keebler mentioned affect weather worldwide, they are located in the Pacific Ocean. On the Atlantic side, activity in Africa could affect storm formation across the ocean.

“There’s a monsoon sitting over Africa, which produces tropical waves that move across the ocean, which increases tropical activity,” Keebler said. “Though most of them probably won’t form into tropical cyclones, there’s probably no shortage of waves coming from Africa.”

So far, there have been five named storms this year, including a rare January hurricane that formed in the northern Atlantic. One, Colin, was expected to impact southeastern North Carolina on Memorial Day Weekend but instead moved to the east after hitting South Carolina hard.

“We’re still by far expecting a ‘near normal’ season,” Keebler said, saying that means an average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes (category 3 or higher). “We had a little volume early in late May and early June, then things kind of quieted down, and they’re still quiet.”

Keebler noted there have been a few of what he calls “nickel and dime” storms that aren’t as strong and don’t cause as much damage, but said we could see more activity in the next few weeks.

“We’re going into the peak of the hurricane season,” said Keebler, adding that the time period around Sept. 10 is when the elements that produce storms will be at their peak. “The next few weeks are the time of the season when the strongest storms tend to form.”

Though the biggest storm to hit the Wilmington area last year, Hurricane Joaquin, arrived the first weekend of October, Keebler said major storms are rare after mid-September.

“I’m not saying people shouldn’t be prepared and let their guards down after that, but we can relax a little bit,” Keebler said. “It’s hard to tell what we’ll get, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”

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