Hurricane season is here, Brace for up to 4 major storms in the Atlantic

Forecasters may not be expecting a severe hurricane season this year, but a few major storms could still threaten the Atlantic coast.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially kicked off Saturday — even after Subtropical Storm Andrea briefly spun up near Bermuda last week — and will run through November 30.

Top hurricane forecasters have predicted a near-normal season with “a lot” of storms. Nine to 15 named storms, including four to eight hurricanes, could form in the Atlantic.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, said the season won’t likely be as violent as last year’s above-average season when hurricanes Florence and Michael slammed the United States, killing nearly 100 people and causing billions of dollars in damage.

But they are warning that two to four hurricanes could still grow to Category 3 or stronger. Those storms carry winds of 111 to 129 mph.

“That’s still a lot of activity,” said Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead hurricane forecaster. “We are expecting a near-normal season but regardless, that’s a lot of activity and you still need to prepare for the hurricane season now.”

El Niño, the periodic weather event characterized by warming ocean temperatures, tends to weaken hurricanes but that could change if the weather is warmer.

Neil Jacobs, the acting NOAA administrator, said warmer-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, as well as enhanced storm activity moving off West Africa, would favor increased activity.

El Niño could also weaken quicker than anticipated, creating conditions that would be more favorable for storm development by peak season in September.

The opposite is also true: If El Niño strengthens more than anticipated, it could keep tropical storm activity on the lower end of NOAA’s range.

Weather officials say El Niño has a 55 to 60 per cent chance of continuing through the fall.

For the past five years, a winter hurricane and a series of tropical storms have formed before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season. Subtropical Storm Andrea continued that trend in May.

The short-lived storm made this the fifth consecutive year that a named storm has formed before the season’s official start.

Hurricane Alex, an unusual winter hurricane, formed in January 2016 in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean.

Meantime, April saw the advent of Tropical Storm Arlene in 2017, while May ushered in Tropical Storm Ana in 2015 and Tropical Storm Alberto in 2018.

The recent rise in off-season storms has raised questions about the impact of climate change and whether the time frame should begin sooner.

But weather officials have said they would need more evidence of a considerable change before making a final decision.

In the past 12 years, there have been at least six named storms right before hurricane season officially started — during the second half of May — but in the 31 years before that, there was “a lack of any such activity” in the same time frame, said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman with the National Hurricane Center.

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