Hurricane season officially begins

    (Image: NOAA)

    (Image: NOAA)

    Today marks the official beginning of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, which NOAA forecasters say will most likely feature “near-normal” activity.

    In a year that has already featured two tropical cyclones prior to June 1 — Alex in January and Bonnie late last month — NOAA predicts a 70 percent likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), according to an outlook issued last week. 

    Of those storms, the forecasters say four to eight could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including one to four major hurricanes (winds of 111 miles per hour or higher).

    But NOAA cautions that this season features a wild card. 

    “This is a more challenging hurricane season outlook than most because it’s difficult to determine whether there will be reinforcing or competing climate influences on tropical storm development,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “However, a near-normal prediction for this season suggests we could see more hurricane activity than we’ve seen in the last three years, which were below normal.”

    An outlook issued by Colorado State University in April anticipates 12 named storms, including six hurricanes and two major hurricanes, or cyclones that reach Category 3 strength or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

    The Colorado State University forecasters cite the “quite cold” North Atlantic Ocean as an inhibiting factor that tends to “force atmospheric conditions that are less conducive for Atlantic hurricane formation and intensification.” 

    But the forecasters emphasize that “there is large uncertainty” in the prediction, particularly due to a current weakening El Niño likely to transition to either neutral or La Niña conditions by September, warning coastal residential that it only takes one hurricane striking the coast “to make it an active season for them.” 

    Some Atlantic basin seasons feature below average activity but still result in a devastating storm, like Hurricane Andrew in 1992, while others like 2010 — the third most active season on record — did not feature a hurricane making landfall. 

    The 2016 Atlantic basin hurricane season continues through November 30. The upcoming names include Colin, Danielle, Earl, and Fiona.

    The season peaks in September, and 80 percent of named storms between 1981 and 2010 have formed between August and October, according to The Weather Channel. 

    NOAA offers a comprehensive guide on storm preparations.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.