Last year when the world was held rapt at the plight of Northeastern residents during "Super Storm" Sandy, we along the Gulf Coast chuckled. Not at the suffering of the people there. In fact, we understand those poor people and what they went through better than just about anyone else. We were laughing over the coverage for a storm that, in these parts, wouldn't even stop us from going to work. Hell, it would take a bigger storm than Sandy to get us to hunker down and a much bigger one to actually evacuate.
That's because, like the calluses you build up when you spend your summer walking on hot pavement (anyone else remember that?), we've developed a tolerance for the weather that accompanies hurricane season. We know how to prepare. We know what to do when threatened. We're veterans.
Still, every year about this time, the first really serious predictions for what we might expect beginning June 1 and ending November 30, and we all take notice. So far, a couple prediction models have come out -- the biggie by Bill Gray and Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University will be released next week -- and they both predict a busy hurricane season in the Atlantic and particularly along the Gulf Coast.
The Weather Research Center here in Houston, which includes the Weather Museum (how have I never been there?), released its predictions on Thursday calling for nine to 12 named storms, with six of them reaching hurricane strength and three making landfall in the U.S. Joe Bastardi over at Weather Bell is even more bullish according to the SciGuy blog at Chron.com (Weather Bell is a paid, private prediction service).
He's calling for 16 named storms, an unusually high number of hurricanes at 12 with at least five of those reaching major-hurricane status. I have generally found Bastardi's predictions to be overly aggressive, but he is respected in his field and his number of named storms is not out of line with what I believe most will predict. But 12 hurricanes is an extraordinarily large number as is five major storms. In 2005, the busiest year on record in the Atlantic, there were 15 hurricanes, seven of which were major storms. It's hard to imagine we'll have anything close to that. Last year, we had ten hurricanes, but only two of them were major.
There is good reason to believe we will have a busy year in 2013, however. We are still in the middle of what scientists refer to as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Basically, the water in the Atlantic is warmer than normal during these 25- to 40-year periods. Unfortunately, this current cycle began only 18 years ago in 1995.
Additionally, sea surface temperatures, a significant factor in fueling hurricanes, are higher than normal already this year.
The graphic above shows the difference between what the water temperatures are now and what they are normally. Areas in red indicate substantially warmer than normal temperatures. Now, they are still WAY below what is needed to form hurricanes, but it's worth noting that we are already above average in many parts of the Atlantic.
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That one big red blob in the northern Gulf is associated with the Loop Current, a characteristic that creates warmer than normal temperatures in a deep pocket referred to as an eddy. A large, extremely warm eddy was largely responsible for the rapid intensification of hurricanes like Katrina and Rita in 2005.
One thing that both predictions agree upon is where most of the storms are predicted to go. Determining steering currents and upper-level airflow patterns is extremely difficult, and, of course, unique weather patterns at the time of a storm have a significant impact on where hurricanes go. But both forecasters suggest that the area along the northern Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic coast of Florida is the most likely target for hurricane activity, while Texas is in an area of lower possibility for a strike.
This doesn't mean Texas won't be affected. We probably will at some point during the season be threatened by a storm. In fact, a good tropical depression or named tropical storm would be good for our drought-stricken region.
But, any prediction that suggests Texas is at a lowered risk is a good thing. There will be additional forecasts next week and throughout the season as meteorologists refine their predictions. For now, we do our annual preparedness drill and wait. Such is life on the Gulf Coast.