Think back a few years ago when hurricanes that battered the Gulf Coast sent refugees fleeing into our hotels and hastily opened shelters. Also recall how this part of Alabama received tropical storm-force winds, downed trees, electrical outages and damage to homes and businesses.
Hurricanes are not only a Gulf Coast threat.
This year, predictions are particularly ominous for the coming hurricane season, which begins June 1 and continues until Nov. 30.
Today there is better equipment, more accurate forecast models and sophisticated data collected over the years. Even though NOAA does not claim to be able to predict where a hurricane will make landfall, it is increasingly confident in predicting how many storms will develop and how intense they will be.
• A strong west African monsoon season combined with favorable atmospheric patterns means the era of high tropical activity that has been with us since 1995 will be with us this year, too.
• Water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea continue to be warmer than average.
• An El Nino is not expected to develop this year, so there will not be the wind shear that has kept hurricanes in check.
Conclusions: NOAA predicts that there will be three to six major hurricanes this year, storms with wind speeds greater than 111 mph. The agency also calculates that there will be 13 to 20 named storms (storms with winds of 39 mph or more) and between seven and 11 of those storms will become hurricanes (74 mph or more).
NOAA will bring a new supercomputer on line next month; according to the agency, that computer will provide “significantly enhanced depiction of storm structure and improved storm intensity forecast guidance.”
That is good news. The storms will come. All we can do is be better prepared.