The Atlantic will probably produce an above-average 16 tropical storms this year, with eight of those strengthening into hurricanes, AccuWeather Inc. said.
Four of the systems are expected to become major hurricanes, Category 3 or stronger with winds of at least 111 miles (179 kilometers) per hour, according to the State College, Pennsylvania-based forecaster.
The 30-year average for the Atlantic is 12 tropical storms, six of which become hurricanes and three major storms. Atlantic hurricanes are watched closely because of their threat to major U.S. population centers and oil and natural gas production and processing.
“It will be an above-normal season with perhaps stronger storms than last year,” Dan Kottlowski, lead hurricane forecaster at AccuWeather, said in a telephone interview. “That doesn’t mean the stronger storms will hit the U.S., but we do think there will be a lot more potential for stronger storms this year.”
The Gulf of Mexico is home to 7 percent of U.S. natural gas output, 23 percent of oil production and 44 percent of refining capacity, according to the Energy Department. In addition, Florida is the world’s second-largest orange producer, behind Brazil.
AccuWeather said today that at least three storms may hit the U.S. this year. It can’t say how strong they will be.
People should keep the example of Hurricane Sandy in mind when judging threat, Kottlowski said. Sandy struck the coast of New Jersey and inflicted billions of dollars’ worth of damage although it was no longer classified a hurricane when it hit.
“You don’t need a Category 4 hurricane to cause massive damage, all you need is a big, overgrown storm,” Kottlowski said by telephone.
The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through November. A tropical system receives a name when winds reach 39 mph and becomes a hurricane when sustained winds grow to 74 mph.
Each of the past three years produced 19 named storms, and Kottlowski said all the factors that made those years so active are still in place in the Atlantic, including warm ocean water. Phenomena that could limit the number of storms, such as El Nino or dust from the African desert, are absent.
El Nino, a warming in the central Pacific Ocean, causes wind shear across the tropical Atlantic that can rob storms of their power or destroy them altogether. Dust and dry air off Africa can also damp a storm’s power and longevity.
“We’re trying to get a handle on how much some of these other small factors such as African dust are going to have on the season,” Kottlowski said.
In April, Colorado State University, which pioneered seasonal hurricane forecasting, predicted 18 storms would develop in the Atlantic this year and nine would become hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release its pre-season forecast on May 23.
The eastern Pacific Season, also tracked by the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, started today.