Weather forecasting company AccuWeather is predicting that this year’s Atlantic hurricane season will see 12 to 14 storms, of which five to seven are expected to become hurricanes, with two to four potentially becoming major hurricanes.
Citing conditions that are likely to be close to or slightly above normal, AccuWeather’s forecast represents a slight decrease from the 2018 season, which produced eight hurricanes.
One of the biggest factors in how an Atlantic hurricane season unfolds is whether the global climate is under the influence of El Niño, La Niña or in a neutral phase. AccuWeather is forecasting that the current El Niño phase and intensity should continue right through the summer, including the most active time of the season: August, September and October.
This would lead to more frequent episodes of wind shear across the basin, which limits tropical cyclone development and intensification.
“If this current El Niño continues or strengthens, then the number of tropical storms and hurricanes will be near or below normal,” AccuWeather meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said. “If the El Niño weakens and goes neutral, the number of tropical storms and hurricanes could actually be higher than normal.”
Last year’s hurricanes Michael and Florence were so catastrophic, their names have been retired from the Atlantic basin storm naming list by the World Meteorological Organization’s Region IV Hurricane Committee, which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center. Only the names of notably deadly and destructive storms are removed from the cycle of names reused every six years.
Florence hit the Carolinas on Sept. 14, 2018, killing at least 51 people and causing heavy rain, storm surge and record flooding that also impacted Virginia. The storm caused more than $24 billion in damage, according to NOAA.
A month later, on Oct. 10, Michael – just 2 mph short of reaching Category 5 status – became the most intense hurricane on record to hit the Florida Panhandle, killing at least 45 people and triggering devastation that extended inland into Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. The Florida Forest Service reported that the state’s timber damage costs exceeded $1.2 billion dollars as a result of Michael, with almost 3 million acres of forested land left damaged.
Kottlowski warns that everyone living along the coast should have a hurricane plan in place. “The old saying is: ‘it only takes one,’” he said.
According to Kottlowski, two to four hurricanes will likely impact the U.S. this year.