Hurricane forecasters warn of ‘extremely active’ season this year

This year's Atlantic hurricane season hasn't kicked off yet, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's forecast is warning of an 'active to extremely active' season, which means that Canada may be impacted by two or more hurricanes this year.

NOAA released their forecast on Thursday, May 23rd, stating that we can expect to see between 13 to 20 'named storms' (tropical storm or hurricane) in the North Atlantic Ocean this year, from the beginning of June through the end of November. Of those named storms, somewhere between 7 and 11 of them are expected to develop into hurricanes of Category 1 or higher, and 3 to 6 of those hurricanes are likely to develop into major hurricanes, of Category 3, 4 or even 5.

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This well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes. For comparison, 2012 was forecast to be a 'near-normal' season of between 9 and 15 named storms, with 4 to 8 hurricanes and 1 to 3 major hurricanes. However, the actual number of storms exceeded their expectations, giving us 17 named storms and 10 hurricanes, two of which were major (Michael and Sandy). It's worth nothing, though, that there were actually a total of 19 named storms altogether last year, but the first two we saw, Tropical Storms Albert and Beryl, happened before the June 1st - November 30th season (which carries its own set of connotations).

The Canadian Hurricane Centre issued their own followup on Friday morning, a day after the NOAA forecast was released, emphasizing that this may be a year with activity well-above the normal, but that the overall number of storms that we see in Canada will likely be similar to recent years.

In the past, Canada typically saw one hurricane a year, at the most. However, in the last couple of years that number has gone up. In 2010, considered an 'active to extremely active' season by NOAA, Hurricanes Earl and Igor impacted on Atlantic Canada. In 2011, which forecasters considered an 'above-normal' season, the maritime provinces actually saw three hurricanes (Irene, Maria and Ophelia). Last year, in a 'near-normal' season, we saw two again, Leslie and Sandy, with Sandy actually going far enough inland that it had a heavy impact on Ontario and Quebec before crossing over the Maritimes.

"It only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it a bad season," cautioned Chris Fogarty, the Canadian Hurricane Centre's Senior Research Meteorologist, in a statement. "That's why we're reminding Canadians that, no matter the number of storms predicted for the Atlantic, it's time to start preparing for hurricane season."

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There were a lot of questions last year about the now infamous Hurricane Sandy — the largest and second-most costly hurricane in U.S. history — whether climate change caused that storm or if it would cause more storms like it. The general consensus is that, while climate change can't be blamed for actually causing a specific storm, it certainly contributes to their strength. This won't necessarily create more storms, overall, but it will drive the storms we do get into becoming larger, more powerful, and more destructive.

Kerry Emanuel, a Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT and expert on hurricanes and climate change, said in a faculty forum back in February of this year: "The incidence of the destructive, high category hurricanes ought to increase when you increase the temperature of the planet. We see signals like that in the data, and that's another thing to be concerned about."

As for Hurricanes Albert and Beryl 'jumping the gun' on last year's hurricane season, we aren't seeing that yet this year (although there's still another week before the hurricane season starts). However, as air and ocean temperatures increase, that is expected to not only expand the length of the hurricane season, but also cause the stronger storms — which typically happen closer to September — to spin up earlier in the season and last later into the season as well.

The Canadian Hurricane Centre is a great resource for information on hurricanes and tropical storms, including forecasts and how to prepare yourself for these dangerous storms.

(Photo courtesy: NOAA/NASA)

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