Hurricane season off to early start
BRIDGETOWN, CMC – Despite a rare premature start to the Atlantic hurricane season with the emergence of two off-season storms, forecasters are predicting the 2012 season that officially starts today to be quieter than last year’s, with a roughly one-in-three chance of a major hurricane barrelling through the Caribbean.
For only the second time since 1908, two tropical cyclones – Alberto and Beryl – have formed before the June 1 to November 30 season, but the world’s leading team of hurricane experts predict ten named storms and four hurricanes, down from last year’s tally of 19 storms and seven hurricanes.
Colorado State University’s team of the world’s foremost expert on tropical cyclones, Emeritus Professor William Gray, and Dr. Philip Klotzbach, also predicts that two of the four hurricanes will be major.
Gray and Klotzbach predict the probability of at least one major hurricane – categories three to five on the Saffir-Simpson scale – tracking into the Caribbean area (from latitude 10-20 degrees north to longitude 60-88 degrees west) at 34 per cent, below the 42 per cent average for the last century.
The team updated its predicted weather patterns early April but had not changed them up to the eve of the tropical Atlantic season.
Based on 29 years of past data, the forecast predicts a “somewhat below-average Atlantic basin hurricane season” linked to unusually cool sea temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and the potential development of El Niño, the warmer phase of a five-year cycle.
El Niño, which brings warmer winters to North America and high air surface pressure, has been credited with dampening hurricanes and was present for the 2009 hurricane season, the least active in 12 years.
Hurricanes develop and feed off warmer sea temperatures and lower atmospheric pressure and experts said the early formation of two storms in more northerly latitudes, suggested a season unlike the last two, which were aided by the colder La Niña, characterised by cooler winters but low atmospheric pressure.
But in a reminder that no one can predict where a hurricane will strike, the scientists told island and shore dwellers in the Caribbean and Atlantic to prepare as much for a quiet season as an active one.
“Coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them, and they need to prepare the same for every season, regardless of how much activity is predicted,” the Gray-Klotbach team said.
So far, two tropical storms, Alberto which formed off South Carolina on May 20 and Beryl, which formed last Sunday to become the strongest-ever off-season tropical storm to make landfall in the United States, as it crossed over northern Florida and southeast Georgia.
But hurricane forecasters in the US said the early spawning of storms does not lead to a busy season. They said there were only 10 storms in the 1908 season that saw two early storms, including a major system that never made landfall.
There were also three early storms in June 1968 but the season ended relatively quietly with eight named storms and four hurricanes, none of them major.
But the costliest cyclone of the 1968 season, Hurricane Gladys, left more than six million US dollars in damage in its wake as it passed through Cuba, Florida and North Carolina.