A year ago this month, Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of the Texas coast, causing an estimated $125 billion in damage and dropping between 40 and 60 inches of rainfall on southeastern Texas – the wettest tropical storm in American history according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Hopefully, no similar storms are on the horizon for 2018, but just what can be expected with almost three months remaining in the Atlantic hurricane season?
Interestingly, August and September are historically the busiest months for hurricanes on the Texas coast according to the Weather Research Center based in Houston.
The Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project, which issues the first widely recognized hurricane season projection each year and has been forecasting Atlantic hurricanes since 1984, offered an initial forecast in April that predicted a busier than usual hurricane season, which was echoed by the National Climate Prediction Center.
Many forecasters – including the Colorado State University team, have revised their predictions and downgraded the outlook and predicted a below-normal hurricane season with 11 named storms, including four hurricanes and one major hurricane. The August projection forecast a below average Atlantic hurricane season. The reason? “Both a cooler than normal tropical Atlantic and the potential development of a weak El Niño event,” according to the National Weather Service.
The CSU group is expecting nine more named tropical storms to form in the Atlantic, with an estimated three predicted to become hurricanes and one to reach major hurricane strength (with winds in excess of 110 miles per hour).
A press release from the CSU Tropical Meteorology Project forecasters compared the 2018 hurricane season to those in 1968, 1986, 1993, 1994 and 2002, each of which had a below normal amount of activity.
“The team predicts that 2018 hurricane activity will be about 70 percent of the average season,” the release stated. “By comparison, 2017’s hurricane activity was about 245 percent of the average season.”
The lone storm in the Atlantic as of mid-week was Hurricane Debby, located in the eastern Atlantic. It is the fourth named storm in the Atlantic this year.
However, the National Weather Service announced that the storm was expected to dissipate and is not a threat to the United States.
Meanwhile, hurricane conditions appear considerably more active in the Pacific, where there have been 11 named storms in 2018. Hurricane Hector, was located about 470 miles southeast of South Point, Hawaii. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Illeana that had been approaching hurricane status, weakened and was absorbed by another storm, Hurricane John. Hurricane John was located west of Baja California, Mexico, and was expected to weaken and not make landfall. Looming out in the Pacific was tropical storm Kristy, which was also threatening to become a hurricane. Forecasters say it will not make landfall. So while the Atlantic has been relatively quiet, the Pacific storms are definitely keeping forecasters busy.
NOAA notes that hurricanes are the world’s most violent storms, and can reach speeds of 157 miles per hour or higher. What causes hurricanes are the combination of warm water – which fuels the storms – and pressure, which creates a swirling vortex.
"When the waters are warmer, it tends to mean you have lower pressures,” said Phil Klotzbach, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University, said in an interview with Live Science. “It means a more unstable atmosphere, which is conducive to hurricanes intensifying. These thunderstorms, which are the building blocks of hurricanes, are better able to organize and get going."
Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon noted that developing weather conditions are helping to reduce the prevalence of major oceanic storms, saying that the “apparent beginning of El Niño development will hinder Atlantic hurricane development.”
The likelihood of a hurricane season with less activity than usual off the Gulf Coast doesn’t mean that residents along the Texas coast should let down their guard. Although the likelihood of a major storm striking may be decreased, it can be extraordinarily difficult to predict the weather – especially when it comes to storms.
“It only takes one landfall event near you to make this an active hurricane season,” said Michael Bell, an associate professor at CSU and co-author of the updated hurricane forecast.
Tips on preparing for a hurricane can be found here https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes.