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This year's hurricane season might be 'extremely active,' federal forecasters warn

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Hurricane Sandy
Hurricane Sandy

As if the devastation wrought by last year's Hurricane Sandy wasn't bad enough, federal forecasters have announced that the coming months will bring "an active or extremely active" hurricane season in the Atlantic.

In a newly issued release, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today joined a host of independent forecasting outlets that have already released stormy predictions for this year's hurricane season, which starts in June. A typical season, according to NOAA, entails 12 named storms and six hurricanes — three of which are strong enough to be deemed category 3, 4, or 5 storms. This year, however, they think those numbers will increase: forecasters expect to see between 13 and 20 named storms and between 7 and 11 hurricanes. Of those, anywhere from three to six could be major hurricanes.

More moderate than forecasts from independent outlets

Those predictions, which encompass storms in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea, align with forecasts from major independent outlets: AccuWeather is anticipating eight hurricanes, while The Weather Channel predicts we'll endure nine.

"More and stronger hurricanes"

A combination of factors are responsible for the projected increase, NOAA notes, including an atmospheric climate pattern that's prompted an increase in hurricanes since 1995, and above-average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. "Oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic basin are expected to produce more and stronger hurricanes," Gerry Bell, PhD, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA, said in a statement. "These conditions include weaker wind shear, warmer Atlantic waters and conducive winds patterns coming from Africa."

All those storms will this year be tracked with enhanced precision: NOAA has upgraded its supercomputing capacity, and will incorporate Doppler radar data from aboard their Hurricane Hunter aircraft. Those improvements are expected to improve the accuracy of specific storm monitoring by 10 to 15 percent.