BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A team of researchers at Colorado State University led by Dr. Philip Klotzbach released their first outlook for the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season on Thursday.
The forecasters are calling for 11 named storms, 4 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes (Category 3-5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale). Those numbers are slightly below the long-term averages of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes for the Atlantic basin, which includes the Gulf of Mexico.
The outlook is based on an examination of some key elements involved in the development of tropical storms and hurricanes, including sea surface temperatures and atmospheric pressures in the Atlantic, and the potential for El Niño or La Niña conditions to develop in the Pacific. When El Niño is present, tropical activity tends to be reduced in the Atlantic, while the opposite is true for La Niña.
Klotzbach's team is basing their slightly below-normal forecast on two primary factors: the anticipated development of a weak to moderate El Niño by the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season and some recent cooling of sea surface temperatures noted in the Atlantic. El Niño hinders tropical development in the Atlantic by increasing wind shear. Wind shear occurs when stronger winds in the mid and upper levels of the atmosphere rip apart developing tropical systems.
In addition to calling for slightly below normal activity in the Atlantic basin as a whole, the team is also calling for lower-than-normal chances of a major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coastline.
Their forecast lists a 42 percent chance of a major hurricane hitting any part of the U.S. coastline when the average for the last century is 52 percent. For the Gulf of Mexico, odds of a major hurricane landfall are placed at 24 percent with the long-term average being 30 percent. It's worth noting that the U.S. is in the midst of an ongoing record drought of major hurricane landfalls, with a Category 3 or stronger system not hitting the mainland since Wilma struck south Florida in 2005.
While forecasts such as these prove valuable in providing a general outlook for the upcoming hurricane season, it's important to remember that even relatively inactive seasons have produced major impacts. Most notably for Louisiana, Hurricane Andrew delivered a significant blow to the state as a Category 3 storm in 1992 in what was otherwise a quiet season. Andrew, the first named system of 1992, didn't form until late August. And it was one of only six named systems that year.