NOAA predicts an active 2011 storm season

Predictions match other reports on 2011 activity

It’s official – climate science officials are expecting an active Atlantic hurricane season between June and November.

In late May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC), released its predictions for the current hurricane season. Like other prominent climate science sources, the CPC predicts that coastal American populations could be at greater risk of a storm’s landfall than in the past few seasons.

Across the entire Atlantic Basin for the six-month season, NOAA is predicting the following ranges:

  • 12 to 18 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which:
  • Six to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including:
  • Three to six major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher)

(Each of these ranges has a 70 percent likelihood. This indicates that activity will exceed the seasonal average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.)

“The United States was fortunate last year. Winds steered most of the season’s tropical storms and all hurricanes away from our coastlines,” Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA administrator, said in NOAA’s May release. “However, we can’t count on luck to get us through this season. We need to be prepared, especially with this above-normal outlook.”

In comparison, Colorado State University’s annual December forecast predicted 16 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major hurricanes. Weather Services International updated its forecast for 2011 to predict a total of 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four classified as major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale)

According to NOAA, climate factors considered for this outlook are:

  • The continuing high activity era – since 1995, the tropical multi-decadal signal has brought ocean and atmospheric conditions conducive for development in sync, leading to more active Atlantic hurricane seasons.
  • Warm Atlantic Ocean water – sea surface temperatures where storms often develop and move across the Atlantic are up to two degrees Fahrenheit, warmer-than-average.
  • La Niña, which continues to weaken in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, is expected to dissipate later this month or in June, but its impacts such as reduced wind shear are expected to continue into the hurricane season.

NOAA’s seasonal hurricane outlook does not predict where and when any of these storms may hit. Landfall is dictated by weather patterns in place at the time the storm approaches. For each storm, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center forecasts how these weather patterns affect the storm track, intensity and landfall potential.

“The tornadoes that devastated the South and the large amount of flooding we’ve seen this spring should serve as a reminder that disasters can happen anytime and anywhere,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said in a statement last month. “As we move into this hurricane season it’s important to remember that FEMA is just part of an emergency management team that includes the entire federal family, state, local and tribal governments, the private sector and most importantly the public.”

Hurricane impacts are not limited to the coastline. Strong winds and flooding often pose a threat across inland areas, along with the risk for tornadoes.

To help prepare residents of hurricane-prone areas, NOAA is unveiling a new set of video and audio public service announcements featuring NOAA hurricane experts and the FEMA administrator. These videos are available in both English and Spanish, at http://www.hurricanes.gov/prepare.

To view updated information on potential tropical storms and hurricanes, visit www.nhc.noaa.gov. For more information about preparedness for hurricanes and other types of severe weather, visit www.ready.gov.