NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center expects the 2016 hurricane season in the Atlantic to be within normal ranges, according to its recently-released prediction. NOAA expects 10 to 16 named storms this year (storms with winds of 39 mph or higher), with 4 to 8 of those storms to becoming hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher) and 1 to 4 becoming major hurricanes (Category 3 or greater with winds of 111 mph or higher).
Hurricane behavior in 2015 was the closest to average since the 2012 season, with 11 total names storms and four hurricanes, two of which were deemed category three or above.
Potentially complicating these forecasts however, are uncertain factors including the currently-dissipating El Niño in the eastern Pacific Ocean, and the impending La Niña, which can often favor more hurricane activity. Scientists believe La Niña will be present during Hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 through November 30th in the Atlantic, though current models show uncertainty as to how strong the effects of La Niña will be felt.
2016 Hurricane Season Already Off to a Strange Start
Despite the official season spanning summer and fall months, we saw the first hurricane activity of the year back in January of 2016, with Hurricane Alex forming in the northeastern Atlantic near the Azores Islands. It was the first hurricane to occur so early in the year since 1955, when Hurricane Alice developed in the central Atlantic on December 30, 1954, reaching peak winds of 90 mph (150 km/h), and dissipating over the southeastern Caribbean on January 6. Typical “off-season” storms will occur in late May.
NOAA and the National Weather Service admit predictions aren’t perfect. Due to the uncertainty related to the El Niño and La Niña effects and other factors, scientists can only predict a “normal” hurricane season with 45% confidence. There is a 30% chance of an “above normal” season, and a 25% chance of below-normal activity. Given that hurricane activity over the last three years has been below normal, these predictions suggest an increase in overall activity for 2016.
Don’t Forget the Pacific
NOAA also issued its outlook for the eastern Pacific and central Pacific basins which calls for a 70% probability of 13-20 named storms and 6-11 hurricanes, 3-6 of which will be major hurricanes. NOAA will issue an updated 2016 hurricane season outlook for the Atlantic in early August, just prior to the peak of the season.