The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season has officially begun. The hurricane season, which includes the Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico, runs from June 1 to November 30. According to the National Weather Service, a hurricane is a tropical cyclone that has maximum sustained winds of 64 knots (74 mph) or higher. Hurricanes are also rated based on a scale of 1 to 5, with major hurricanes starting at a Category 3. The latter classifications are important to understanding how this year's hurricane season will impact both coastal and inland residents.
What is the Overall Forecast for This Year's Hurricane Season?
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the United States averages one to two hurricane landfalls throughout every season. Unfortunately, the 2017 and 2018 hurricane seasons were particularly destructive to the United States' coastline, especially those areas on the Gulf of Mexico. In 2017, seven named storms impacted the United States. While only four named storms that impacted the United States during 2018, the results were particularly devastating to Florida's Gulf of Mexico coastline.
Based on the analysis of previous seasons, current weather trends and ocean temperatures, experts predict that the current hurricane season might see a fewer number of storms and hurricanes. Experts are quick to point out that the fewer number of storms doesn't mean that they will be any less dangerous. In this vein, it is important to note that the tropical Atlantic has near average sea surface temperatures. The latter temperatures are caused by a slight anomalous warming, which has caused a bit of unrest amongst experts. To date, the subtropical Atlantic is considered "quite warm," while the North Atlantic is "cooler than average." However, there is uncertainty regarding the upcoming trend for Atlantic sea surface temperatures.
With the above insights in mind, experts predict that there will be:
- A total of 9 to 15 named storms;
- 4 to 8 hurricanes; and
- 2 to 4 major hurricanes ranked at a Category 3 or higher.
The above predictions are near the 30-year average of 12 named storms with 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes.
What is the Hurricane Season Forecast for the Gulf of Mexico?
Even though many experts predict that this year will be a near average hurricane season, it is important to note that the storms could be particularly devastating due to a number of influences, including El Niño. In particular, El Niño impacts the Gulf of Mexico and produces stronger wind shear. Stronger-than-average wind shear can cause more impactful tropical storms and hurricanes. If sea surface temperatures in the Main Development Region (MDR) are higher than average, then there are typically a larger number of hurricanes and tropical storms. However, if sea surface temperatures are lower in the MDR, then there could be a lower number of hurricanes and tropical storms.
The challenge that prediction experts face is the uncertainty regarding sea surface temperatures in the middle of the hurricane season. Additionally, the current uncertainty regarding the upcoming temperatures, means that forecasters are having a hard time making predictions for the Gulf of Mexico. To date, NOAA predicts that there is a 30 percent chance for a below-normal season, 30 percent chance for an above-normal season, and 40 percent chance for a near-normal hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico. The latter predictions are given with a 70 percent confidence level, which means that residents living along the Gulf of Mexico should remain prepared for the upcoming hurricane season.
Adequate insurance, an evacuation plan, safely stored and easily accessible important documents, an emergency kit (including medical supplies, clean water, and non-perishable food), and cash on hand are just a few of the steps that Gulf of Mexico coastal and inland residents can take to be better prepared for the 2019 hurricane season. In conclusion, as the 2019 hurricane season progresses, NOAA will continue to update its predictions with the final peak-to-late season predictions released in August 2019.