Scientist shares hurricane season outlook

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Coastal residents should expect a hurricane season with more named storms than average this year.

Speaking Thursday at the National Tropical Weather Conference on South Padre Island, Colorado State University research scientist Philip Klotzbach announced the season’s earliest forecast calls for 13 named storms, slightly above the average of 12.1 storms per season from 1981 to 2010.

However, the season likely will produce slightly fewer storms overall, according to the forecast.

“Based on the large-scale climate factors that we see right now, expect that the Atlantic hurricane season activity is going to be slightly lower than we’d see in an average season,” Klotzbach said.

Of those 13 storms, the forecast suggests that five could develop into hurricanes and that two could strengthen into major hurricanes of Category 3 or greater. An average season would produce 6.4 hurricanes and 2.7 major hurricanes, according to data provided at the conference.

Still, experts urged residents to prepare and cautioned that just one storm can impact a community.

“We have had many seasons in the past that were below-average or average that had lots of storms making landfall,” Klotzbach said. “We cannot say what the storms will do or if they’ll make landfall months in advance. So for the general public, it’s just a matter of being prepared this hurricane season and every hurricane season,” Klotzbach said.

According to Klotzbach, communities that have been affected most recently are more likely to take preparations seriously.

“A couple years ago, a lot of people along the coast were dealing with ‘hurricane amnesia,’” Klotzbach said. “We hadn’t had major hurricanes in the U.S. in a long time, and obviously in the last couple years very sizeable portions of the coastline have been devastated by very significant hurricanes. So I think, in terms of getting prepared, a lot of (motivation comes from) how long has it been since a hurricane has hit your particular area.”

With every hurricane, there are multiple threats, according to Klotzbach, who said he typically breaks the threats into three types: rainfall, wind and storm surge.

For example, in 2018, two hurricanes made landfall in the United States.

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Michael made landfall in October 2018 as an unprecedented high-end Category 4 hurricane for the Florida Panhandle region with maximum sustained wind speeds of 155 mph.

“The storm caused catastrophic damage from wind and storm surge, particularly in the Panama City Beach to Mexico Beach to Cape San Blas areas,” the National Weather Service states online. “The widespread damage spread well inland as Hurricane Michael remained at hurricane strength into southwest Georgia.”

In September 2018, Hurricane Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, dumping large amounts of rain and setting records as the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the Carolinas.

Florence was an example of how even a weaker storm can devastate communities through rainfall and a storm surge.

“Florence was moving very slowly so it dumped a tremendous amount of rain. Also, it did some surge damage,” Klotzbach said. “Michael was a much more powerful storm.”

And residents didn’t have much time to prepare, he points out.

“Michael developed on Sunday and made landfall on Wednesday,” Klotzbach said. “I think especially along the Gulf Coast, we have to know we don’t always have a lot of time. These storms can intensify very, very quickly.”

Residents must pay attention to the weather forecasts, he said.

“And if the emergency managers say you have to leave, you have to leave,” he added. “You don’t always have days to prepare.”

The Atlantic storm season run from June 1 to Nov. 30.