Welcome to Hurricane Season 2013: the Search for Spock, or something. As most of us along the Gulf Coast know, the Atlantic hurricane season officially opens (Remember, hunters, your bag limit is two storms per season, so wear bright colors and stay low. Good luck!) on June 1 and runs through November 30. For our neck o' the piney woods, the season ostensibly ends a bit earlier, but more on that momentarily.
June is typically fairly quiet, though the Atlantic did have a couple storms last year before the season even opened, but it is important to start paying attention. The conditions exist for storm development through the Atlantic basin and there's no reason to think this won't be a very active season. Most predictions are right around 16 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes. That is statistically well above season norms and there are good reasons for that.
1. Warm ocean surface temperatures.
Sea Surface Temps (SSTs) are needed for hurricane convection, and while temps are a tad cooler than last year at the same time (particularly in the Gulf), they will be plenty warm soon. Additionally, the presence of a warm water eddy in the Gulf just south of the Louisiana-Mississippi border is a concern. A similar feature was responsible for the rapid intensification of both hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005. We are still a long way off from there, but it bears watching.
2. Monsoons on one continent and drier conditions on another.
Monsoon season in Africa has been particularly wet this year and that tends to increase storm activity in the central Atlantic as well as hinder dust from sub-Saharan Africa to drift across the basin and inhibit storm production. Storms need moist, warm air, and dust dries out the air and blocks out the sun. Additionally, it has been a somewhat dry rainy season in the Amazon, which tends to be an indicator of busy tropical seasons.
3. Lack of wind shear.
Strong upper-level winds can literally tear storms apart, as is often the case when a weather phenomenon known as "El Niño" is in effect. Strong winds blow across Central America and hinder storm development in the Atlantic and Caribbean. No El Niño is forecast this year.
4. We are still in the midst of a busy era for hurricanes.
We are in the middle of what is referred to as Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), which is a period of increased hurricane activity due to ripe atmospheric conditions. The AMO began in 1995 and will last between 25 and 40 years, after which a lower-than-normal period of hurricane activity begins.
Where will they land?
Because weather conditions are extremely difficult to predict from week to week, any predictive forecasting of where future hurricanes might make landfall (or if they will make landfall at all) is highly speculative. Where the storm forms and what the weather conditions are in the area near it have the greatest influence.
We do know that storms will, ultimately, move poleward. It just depends on what weather conditions block or steer their path. Hurricanes cannot move directly into a high pressure area, for example, so the existence of a high over the nation's east coast would tend to steer storms westward, for example. There is also the Bermuda or Azores High, a ridge of high pressure over the Atlantic that drifts between Bermuda and the Azores throughout hurricane season. Where it is can determine the track of storms either toward or away from the U.S. coastline.
A couple forecasters have suggested the best chance of significant activity this year stretches from eastern Louisiana to the east coast of Florida. But that is by no means a certainty, and hurricanes, like all weather, are tremendously difficult to predict, particularly this early in the season.
Best thing you can do for yourself is to get your hurricane preparedness kit together, particularly if you are in low-lying or flood-prone areas. The closer we get to the threat of an actual storm, the tougher it is to get all that together.
No need to hunker down yet, but may as well get your hunkering plans set while you can.
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