A satellite image of Hurricane Matthew approaching New Providence.
A LEADING US weather forecasting service is predicting a below-normal Atlantic hurricane season this year, citing a potential El Niño limiting the development of storms.
AccuWeather meteorologists are predicting ten named storms, five of which are projected to become hurricanes and three of which may become major hurricanes.
The 2017 season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, follows the deadliest in over 10 years for the Atlantic basin. Last season spawned 15 named storms, seven of which were hurricanes, including Matthew in October which devastated parts of The Bahamas. It was also the costliest Atlantic hurricane season since 2012.
“The big factor is going to be the fact that we now believe El Niño will come on board some time during the summer and will continue all the way through the rest of the hurricane season,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said yesterday.
El Niño is characterised by warmer-than-normal ocean water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. It typically causes episodes of strong westerly winds in the tropical Atlantic, which inhibit the development of storms.
“That’s the number one reason we’re going with just below normal,” Mr Kottlowski said.
Though the transition is likely, it is too soon to tell how quickly El Niño will develop and how strong it will become. If the El Niño pattern becomes moderate in the late summer and fall - meaning episodes of these winds are more frequent, the season could end early, according to AccuWeather.
Despite these uncertainties, two to four tropical impacts are forecast for the United States. A close eye is being kept on coastal sections of the northern Gulf of Mexico, including Florida, and the southeast coast for development, Mr Kottlowski said. Analogue years, or years in which the climatic pattern was similar to the current pattern, suggest these regions may be particularly vulnerable to impacts.
Deep, warm water and high sea surface temperatures over the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean also threaten to support at least one high impact hurricane similar to Joaquin, in 2015, and Matthew, in 2016.