2012 Hurricane Season Now Forecast Above Normal

Hurricane Ernesto approaching the Yucatan Peninsula. Image credit: NOAA.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, updating its forecast, said today that this year's Atlantic hurricane season is likely to be above average.

"It takes a whole set of conditions to produce a hurricane and right now, that whole set of conditions is favorable," said Gerry Bell, the center's lead seasonal hurricane forecaster.

The center said it was now predicting there would be 12 to 17 named storms, 5 to 8 of them hurricanes. It raised the numbers partly because of the number of storms we have already seen this year.

"This year's Atlantic hurricane season got off to a busy start, with 6 named storms to date," said NOAA in a statement. "The updated outlook still indicates a 50 percent chance of a near-normal season, but increases the chance of an above-normal season to 35 percent."

Already, the Atlantic has seen tropical storms Alberto, Beryl, Debbie and Florence, and hurricanes Chris and Ernesto.

Based on that, the Climate Prediction Center said it now anticipates 12 to 17 storms with top winds of 39 mph or higher. Of those, it is predicted we will see 5-8 hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), 2-3 of which could be major hurricanes. Major hurricanes are Category 3, 4, or 5 and have winds of at least 111 mph.

According to NOAA, the average Atlantic hurricane season produces 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

The Climate Prediction Center is increasing the number of expected storms due to wind patterns and warmer-than-average ocean temperatures, according to Bell.

"These conditions are linked to the ongoing high activity era for Atlantic hurricanes that began in 1995. Also, strong early-season activity is generally indicative of a more active season," Bell said.

At the same time, forecasters predict that an El Niño - a giant patch of unusually warm water in the equatorial Pacific that affects global weather patterns - will develop in August or September.

"El Niño is a competing factor, because it strengthens the vertical wind shear over the Atlantic, which suppresses storm development," Bell said. "However, we don't expect El Niño's influence until later in the season."

NOAA's National Weather Service said regardless of predictions, it is important to take the proper steps to be ready for severe weather.

For more information on how to prepare for hurricane season, visit www.ready.gov.