Agency predicts 5 to 9 hurricanes this season

Above-normal storms expected during June through November season

BY WAYNE K. ROUSTAN
SUN SENTINEL/TNS

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting an above-normal 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season, with five to nine hurricanes — two to four of them Category 3 (winds at least 111 mph) or stronger. The forecast calls for 11 to 17 tropical systems (winds a least 39 mph).

Hurricane Wilma, which hit southern Florida in 2005, was the last major storm of Category 3 or stronger to strike the U.S. Jennifer Farrington sits in the remains of her living room in 2005 after the storm destroyed her trailer.
(CHARLES TRAINOR JR./MIAMI HERALD/TNS)

The Atlantic Hurricane Season is June 1 until Nov. 30.

The weakness or absence of storm-suppressing El Nino climate conditions, combined with above-normal ocean surface temperatures and average or weaker vertical wind shear across the Caribbean and Atlantic Coast are factors pointing to an active hurricane season, said Ben Friedman, acting NOAA administrator.

Forecasters say there’s a 45 percent chance of an above-normal hurricane season and only a 20 percent chance it will be below average.

Rare early storm
April’s Tropical Storm Arlene was a rare preseason storm, but it was also an indication of an active season ahead, Friedman said last week.

“Our season outlook predicts a range of storm activity in the entire six-month period across the Atlantic,” he said. “It does not predict when, where and how these storms might hit and if they will make landfall.”

Not since Hurricane Wilma hit southern Florida in 2005 has a major storm of Category 3 or stronger struck the U.S.

“Some may think that’s lucky,” he said. “But, in fact, tropical storms and hurricanes can be just as damaging and just as deadly.”

Death, damages
As an example, Friedman pointed to last year’s Hurricane Matthew, which caused storm surge flooding along the east coast from Florida to South Carolina.

“That caused $10 billion worth of damage and caused 34 deaths just in the United States,” he said.

“In the Caribbean, another 550 or more people were killed by that storm, making it one of the deadliest on record.”

In the 25 years since Category 5 Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida, forecasting accuracy has improved 65 percent, said Mary Erickson, deputy director at the National Weather Service.

New satellite
A new weather satellite above the equator will move into orbit over the Atlantic Coast this summer to give forecasters a more detailed view of storm formations that might threaten the U.S. and Caribbean.

High-definition hurricane- and lightning-mapping programs will enhance forecast accuracy, Erickson said.

“The primary goal of these improvements is to pinpoint where the biggest impacts are going to be,” she said.

NOAA is emphasizing personal preparations as key to minimizing the effect of the hurricane season.

“Just because it’s not a major hurricane doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous, doesn’t mean it’s not deadly, doesn’t mean that we don’t need to be prepared for it,” Friedman said.

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