Many variables in hurricane forecasting

Many variables in hurricane forecasting (Image 1)

We can expect at least 6 to 11 named storms according to new predictions from NOAA.
And it takes just one to turn in from the Atlantic Ocean to cause trouble.

Tropical Storm Ana became one of the earliest named systems to ever affect us in May, and people are asking if the rest of the season will be as active.

Not necessarily.

In 2012, two named systems affected us in May, Alberto and Beryl. But when hurricane season finally kicked in on June 1st, not a single tropical system made landfall in NC for the rest of the season.  

That’s one reason why I’ve never been one for long-term forecasting months in advance. After all, it’s hard enough to determine what the weather is going to do next week, much less 5 or 6 months down the road.

The idea of making hurricane predictions is not new.

In fact, the National Hurricane Center can trace its origins all the way back to President William McKinley, who supported the establishment of a hurricane warning network in 1898.  But it wasn’t until the age of computers that longer-range prediction became common.

Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University rose to prominence in the 1980’s when his team began issuing seasonal outlooks. Over time, other universities published their own forecasts.

No one has the magic answer, but there are certain factors that at least suggest a trend.

For example, consider the El Nino cycle. El Nino refers to a periodic warming of ocean waters off the coast of Peru. But it affects weather patterns around the world.

During an El Nino year, wind shear can increase in certain areas of the Atlantic. This can tear apart developing hurricanes.

Of course, this is just one of several factors. Others include monsoon development in Africa, the status of trade winds, and so on.

For 2015, some early season predictions from North Carolina State University and Colorado State are calling for a below-normal year. In fact, the NC State tropical forecasting team is calling for only 1-3 hurricanes to form in the Atlantic Basin. Of course, we all have to remember that it only takes one storm to have a bad year.

The First Alert Weather team will continue to track the tropics.

You can get your daily dose of what’s happening with our web extras. Just log on to and find your Daily Tropical Weather Update by clicking the link.

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