Atlantic Hurricane Season Starts This Thursday

May 30, 2023 by Dan McCue
Atlantic Hurricane Season Starts This Thursday
NOAA GOES satellite captures Hurricane Ian as it made landfall on the barrier island of Cayo Costa in southwest Florida on September 28, 2022. (NOAA photo)

MIAMI — The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts this coming Thursday, with forecasters from the Climate Prediction Center expecting a “near-normal” season with 12-17 named storms likely, of which as many as four could be major, catastrophic storms.

But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters who announced this year’s prediction warned that there was a high degree of uncertainty in their forecast due to competing factors — warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures that tend to promote hurricane activity in the Atlantic and a likely El Niño in the South Pacific, which tends to suppress activity.

Also factoring into the equation is the potential for an above-normal west African monsoon, which produces African easterly waves and seeds some of the stronger and longer-lived Atlantic storms.

For those who prefer to go by the numbers, the forecasters concluded there’s a 40% chance of a near-normal hurricane season, a 30% chance of an above-normal season and a 30% chance of a below-normal season.

Given the uncertainty in the forecast, the data and expertise NOAA provides to emergency managers and partners to support decision-making in real time has never been more crucial.

That’s why this year, NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., announced a number of upgrades and improvements to the agency’s operations and products.

To begin with, the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season will see the implementation of a new hurricane forecast model and an extension of the tropical cyclone outlook graphic from five to seven days — both are intended to provide emergency managers and communities with more time to prepare for storms.

At the same time, NOAA is expanding the capacity of its operational supercomputing system by 20%.

In late June, the new Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System will become operational, running in tandem this season with the currently operational Hurricane Weather Research and Forecast Model System and the Hurricanes in a Multi-scale Ocean-coupled Non-hydrostatic model.

If the new system performs as anticipated — early run-throughs with historical hurricane data showed it has a 10%-15% improvement in track forecasts over existing programs — it will become NOAA’s primary hurricane model going forward.

An upgraded Probabilistic Storm Surge model that went online on May 2 advances storm surge forecasting for the contiguous United States and new forecasts for surge, tide and waves for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

In addition, the new model will enable forecasters to analyze the potential surge for two storms simultaneously. 

The model will also provide forecasters with the likelihood of various flooding scenarios to help communities prepare for all potential outcomes.

In addition, the National Weather Service will unveil a new generation of forecast flood inundation mapping for portions of Texas and portions of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast in September 2023. 

These forecast maps — showing the extent of flooding at the street level — will extend to the rest of the United States by 2026.

The agency also has a few longer range projects underway that promise to significantly bolster hurricane forecasts and monitoring for years to come.

One includes the deployment of new, small aircraft drone systems, the deployment of additional “Saildrones” and underwater gliders, and WindBorne global sounding balloons. 

These new technologies are expected to fill critical data gaps and improve hurricane forecast accuracy.

NOAA is also upgrading its Tropical Atmosphere Ocean buoy array, upgrading it with new instruments and capabilities, while placing them in more strategic locations and making higher-frequency observations. 

“As we saw with Hurricane Ian, it only takes one hurricane to cause widespread devastation and upend lives,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell in a written statement. “So regardless of the number of storms predicted this season, it is critical that everyone understand their risk and heed the warnings of state and local officials. 

“Whether you live on the coast or further inland, hurricanes can cause serious impacts to everybody in their path,” Criswell said.

Want to get ahead of the storm? Visit ready.gov or listo.gov for readiness resources, and get real-time emergency alerts by downloading the FEMA App.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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