Hurricane season a week away

Posted May 25, 2014

Tracking the Tropics

— Memorial Day weekend is not only the harbinger of the summer vacation season, it also offers a heads-up that hurricane season is on the way. Hurricane season in the Atlantic basic officially begins June 1 (next Sunday) and ends Nov. 30.

Forecasters have predicted a less-severe-than-usual season because of changes in rain and temperature patterns around the world associated with an expected El Nino, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in New York City.

Cooler temperatures on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean compared with recent years will likely reduce the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes, but it only takes one storm to wreak havoc. Storm kit What should I do when a hurricane approaches?

North Carolinians, from the coast to the Piedmont, should be aware of hurricane and tropical storm forecasts and be prepared with a stockpile of water, fuel, food and other emergency supplies.

Officials expect about eight to 13 named tropical storms and three to six hurricanes. One or two major hurricanes with winds over 110 miles per hour are forecast.

At team of researchers from North Carolina State University led by Lian Xie, a professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences, forecasts eight to 11 named storms in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. N.C. State's researchers said four to six storms may become hurricanes, and one to three may become major hurricanes.

Xie’s methodology evaluates data from the last 100 years on Atlantic Ocean hurricane positions and intensity, as well as other variables including weather patterns and sea-surface temperatures, to predict how many storms will form and where they will make landfall.

The Atlantic hurricane season goes through cycles of high and low activity about every 25 to 40 years based on large scale climatic patterns. Since 1995, an average season has 15 named tropical storms, eight hurricanes and about four major storms. The last time a major hurricane made landfall in the U.S. was when Wilma came ashore in 2005, an eight-year stretch that is the longest on record.

During the six-month season, forecasters name tropical storms when top winds reach 39 mph; hurricanes have maximum winds of at least 74 mph.

Forecasters got it wrong in 2013 when they predicted an unusually busy hurricane season. There were 13 named storms and two hurricanes, Umberto and Ingrid, both of which were Category 1, the lowest on the scale that measures hurricanes by wind speed. There were no major hurricanes.

In 2012, storm surge was devastating to the New York area when Superstorm Sandy slammed the East coast, killing 147 people and causing $50 billion in damage. Sandy lost hurricane status when it made landfall in New Jersey.

A new mapping tool this year will keep coastal residents updated on the storm surge threat, using tides and currents to predict how high the surge might be and where exactly it will hit, said Dr. Holly Bamford, director of NOAA's National Ocean Service.

"Storm surge can be deadly," Bamford said. "It only takes six inches of fast-moving water to knock an adult over."

The map will be activated when a hurricane or tropical storm watch is announced, or about 48 hours before the onset of tropical storm force winds, and updated along with National Weather Service advisories every six hours.


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