Good News Houston: Atlantic Hurricane Season Gets a Downgrade

It would be great if we saw a lot less of this during hurricane season this summer.
It would be great if we saw a lot less of this during hurricane season this summer. Photo by Brandon Navarro
In weather on Monday, we mentioned that this was the first time in a few years we had gone without a named storm in the Atlantic in the month of June. Of course, we had subtropical storm Alberto in May, but anything after Hurricane Harvey in terms of a quieter hurricane season is pleasant for Houstonians.

The news may have improved even more as Dr. Phil Klotzbach and his team at Colorado State University downgraded the chances of hurricanes in the Atlantic this season in their July update. Originally, they had predicted 14 named storms, 6 hurricanes of which 2 would be major hurricanes. But that has been revised to 11 named storms, 2 hurricanes and only 1 major storm for all of 2017.

This is a substantial reduction considering the meat of hurricane season is still over a month away. Klotzbach and his team are the go-to forecasters for hurricanes and have a better-than-average record for storm forecasting.

Their reasoning is cooler than average sea surface temperatures and the rising threat of El Niño sometime later this year, perhaps even by August. Cooler sea surface temperatures and strong trade winds created across the Atlantic Basin by the Pacific warm-water phenomena known as El Niño inhibit the growth of storms.

Waters across much of the northern Atlantic are cooler than they have been in nearly 30 years and an El Niño watch issued last month by the National Hurricane Center appears to be becoming more certain as wind shear, particularly in the Caribbean, has increased.

This, of course, is all good news for our area of the world, but all forecasters are quick to point out that storms like 1992's Hurricane Andrew and 1983's Hurricane Alicia (some of us remember that one vividly) were both destructive storms in otherwise quiet hurricane seasons.

A more interesting questions for weather nerds is whether or not this is a pattern of things to come or simply one year. There are some who have suggested that we are coming to the end of the current "Atlantic multidecadal oscillation" cycle that began in the 1990s. This is a weather pattern that can last anywhere from 20 to 40 years, which sees either an increase or decrease in sea surface temperatures across the Atlantic. The end result is typically much lower hurricane numbers each year.

That's for the scientists to figure out. For now, it appears we could have a lighter tropical season than usual.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke