Expect another busy Atlantic hurricane season, government forecasters said Thursday.
Hurricane season officially begins June 1, and the early forecast predicts an “above normal, and possibly an extremely active” hurricane season, said Kathryn Sullivan, the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency predicts 13 to 20 named storms, seven to 11 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes of a category three or higher. Last year, four major storms made landfall in the United States: Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy and Tropical Storms Beryl and Debby.
Sullivan cautioned that the facts, figures and percentages of forecasters’ predictions are far less important than emphasizing readiness. June is an excellent time for families to rethink their hurricane plans, she said.
“The important news today, for all of us, is about preparedness,” Sullivan said. “That now is the time to think ahead about the hurricane season that is coming. To make your plans at the family level, the community level, the corporate level.”
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The forecast was issued from the new NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Md., instead of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. NOAA wanted to highlight its new building; also, the forecasters who produce the annual hurricane predictions work from it.
“Basically it’s one of the nerve centers for the entire National Weather Service,” said Louis Uccellini, director of the agency.
Uccellini said the National Weather Service is in the midst of a supercomputer upgrade that will aid in improving predictions of hurricane intensity once the work is complete this summer. The hurricane hunter planes that fly into storms will transmit Doppler radar in real time, and that information will be incorporated for the first time in some of the modeling used to predict storm intensity.
Officials anticipate the changes could improve their intensity forecasts by 10 percent to 15 percent, Sullivan said.
The National Weather Service also has changed how some storms are categorized, to avoid confusion after landfall. Some forecasters, particularly with the broadcast media, were critical of how Sandy was reclassified once it made landfall.
The 2013 predictions came even as some residents in New York and New Jersey continue to recover from the effects of superstorm Sandy, which caused an estimated $50 billion in damages in October. Much of that was from the catastrophic storm surge into the New Jersey and New York coastlines.
The weather service and other agencies are working on more dynamic storm surge predictions that they hope will be ready next hurricane season in 2014, Uccellini said. This year, he said, their goal is to better communicate the risks associated with storm surge on the East Coast and the Gulf Coast.
Sandy, which killed 72 people in the United States and 147 overall, is the second-costliest cyclone since Katrina to hit the United States. Because of Sandy’s extreme impacts, the name has been retired from the official list of Atlantic Basin tropical cyclones.
Federal officials have said that they don’t expect government cuts from the so-called sequester to have an effect on forecasting or response. Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center, and Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said earlier this month at Florida’s annual hurricane conference that it wouldn’t jeopardize public safety or federal response to disasters.
Furloughs may be a possibility for employees of the National Weather Service, but Knabb said they wouldn’t happen while the tropics are active.
Sullivan said Thursday that the agency has a plan, under review by Congress, which would combine the fiscal realities of sequestration with the scientific realities of weather observation and prediction.
“We’ve got some flexibility,” she said. “If we need to use it in the event of severe storm or a land-falling hurricane, we’ll be prepared to use that flexibility.”
The NOAA forecast parallels that of Bill Gray and Philip Klotzbach at Colorado State University, who last month predicted 18 named storms, nine hurricanes and four major hurricanes. They warn that it’s difficult to predict months in advance the frequency and intensity of storms, but they said that they issued the forecasts “to satisfy the curiosity of the general public and to bring attention to the hurricane problem.”