Though hurricanes haven’t grabbed many headlines since the June 1 start of hurricane season, the tropics so far are fulfilling long-range forecasts of an active six months with the peak of hurricane season still ahead.
In a typical hurricane season, two named storms usually form in the Atlantic basin by Aug. 3, and the season’s first hurricane usually forms by Aug. 10.
This year is running a bit ahead of schedule.
Before the end of July, the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico produced three tropical storms, meaning that the 2013 season is off to a faster start than a typical year, based on National Hurricane Center statistics. It’s usually Aug. 13 before a season sees three such storms.
The tropical trio didn’t cause a major impact in the United States, with Barry going a short way into Central America and Chantal only brushing Florida as a tattered tropical depression. Tropical Storm Andrea, in June, mostly confined its effects to dumping heavy rain from Florida through New York and spinning off tornadoes in Florida.
Colorado State University researchers William Gray and Phillip Klotzbach issued their first prediction of the 2013 season on April 10 and called for 18 named storms, with nine growing into hurricanes and four reaching Category 3 with winds more than 111 mph.
That opinion didn’t change when Gray and Klotzbach released their revised outlook on June 3 and the pair kept their forecast the same. They also say the nation’s East Coast has a 48 percent chance of seeing a hurricane, compared to a more typical 31 percent, and Gulf Coast states have almost an identical increased risk of a 47 percent chance for a hurricane strike compared to a more typical 30 percent.
Based on the CSU predictions, Florida, the nation’s hurricane magnet, has a 20 percent higher chance of being hit by a hurricane in 2013. There is a 71 percent chance of a hurricane in Florida, compared to 51 percent over the past 29 years.
But other states along the East Coast also show a greater chance of being struck this year, Gray and Klotzbach say, such as North Carolina (at 44 percent, compared to 28 percent) and New York (at 13 percent, compared to 8 percent).
The expectations of CSU’s scientists for an active season fall in the middle of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2013 prediction that came out in late May and called for 13 to 20 named storms, with seven to 11 becoming hurricanes and three to six of those growing into Category 3 or larger hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.
Both those predictions come in well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
NOAA will release its update of the seasonal outlook on Aug. 8, said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
As with all long-range outlooks, residents in coastal states shouldn’t rely on the seasonal forecasts, regardless of whether a calm or hyperactive season is called for, Feltgen said.
“The seasonal outlooks are interesting to look at but they don’t say when storms will form or where they will go,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if the forecast calls for 50 storms or one, you have to be prepared for that one storm if it hits you.”
With three tropical storms already in the books, the busiest months of the season are still ahead as the summer sun cooks ocean waters between Africa and the United States and winds high in the atmosphere push storms toward the U.S.
An analysis by The Weather Channel of storms since 1950 shows 61 percent of a season’s tropical storms and hurricanes form in August and September. Add October, and the number jumps to 78 percent. August through October also account for 84 percent of the hurricanes that form. Hurricane season ends Nov. 30.
While Florida remains the most vulnerable state for hurricanes and tropical storms, residents from the Carolinas through New England can’t afford to be lax in awareness and preparations, Feltgen said.
Since 2000, Florida has been hit by 20 tropical storms or hurricanes, including poundings during the 2004 and 2005 seasons when eight hurricanes hit the state. However, states to the north haven’t escaped. A dozen tropical systems hit from South Carolina through Maine in those years, including the devastating Hurricane Sandy last year and Hurricane Irene in 2011.
That’s why people in all states along the coast have to follow the practice of planning and preparation that Florida residents have faced each year.
“Everybody in Florida has heard the drill for years,” Feltgen said. “But residents in other states have to take it seriously, too. Hurricanes are not just a coastal event. Effects go far inland. Irene was a great example.”
The first and most important step people can take is learning whether they live in an evacuation zone to escape the storm surge when a hurricane pushes a bulldozer of water over land, he said. That tells you whether you’ll have to prepare to leave your home.
The flattened homes and buildings along the coast after Sandy came from storm surge. Storm surge and inland flooding are a hurricane’s major killers.
But even those living outside of evacuation areas need to be ready for flooding from torrential rain, high winds and loss of power for days, Feltgen said.
By early August, forecasters at the hurricane center hope to have a way for people to weigh the chances of a tropical storm or hurricane forming that will be available on the home page of the center’s website. For years forecasters projected the possibility of disturbances becoming storms within the coming 48 hours, from a low of 10 percent or 20 percent to a high of 80 percent to 100 percent.
This year forecasters will extend those possibilities to five days in the future. A tropical wave may have only a 20 percent chance of forming a storm in 48 hours, but that could jump higher in 72 to 120 hours, Feltgen said.