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2013 tropical storm and hurricane forecast

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Every summer the tropics are roiled by storms and hurricanes and every so often one will whirl its way in the vicinity of Belize. It doesn’t happen that often, surprisingly, but nevertheless each May we pause our schedule of weekly Adventure Island trips and our Belize operations take a bit of a rest until the fall, when they start up again in November.

northern storm 2003
Northerner on Long Caye, 2003

This is our “off” season (actually we are busy all summer long getting ready for the next season) and even though we don’t have guests out at Long Caye, we keep a watch on tropical storms and hurricanes in order to better protect the cabanas and other buildings on the island. So we’re always interested when the annual hurricane predictions are released.

This morning, meteorologists Philip Klotzbach and William Gray at Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project published their forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season, which officially starts June 1 and lasts until Nov. 30. They predict an above-average 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, with 18 tropical storms forecast, of which nine will be hurricanes. According to established practice, the naming of Atlantic storms will begin with Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dorian and Erin.

According to USA Today:

A typical year, based on weather records that go back to 1950, has 12 tropical storms, of which seven are hurricanes. A tropical storm has sustained winds of 39 mph; it becomes a hurricane when its winds reach 74 mph.

Gray’s team was the first organization to issue seasonal hurricane forecasts back in 1984; this is the team’s 30th seasonal hurricane forecast.

The team’s forecast in 2012 — 10 named storms and four hurricanes — was far below what actually occurred: Last year, 19 storms formed, including 10 hurricanes. This included Hurricane Sandy, which slammed the Northeast coast in October, killing dozens and leading to billions of dollars in damage. Three straight Atlantic hurricane seasons have had 19 storms.

This forecast is for the Atlantic basin, which includes the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Klotzbach said that of the nine predicted hurricanes, four should be major hurricanes — categories 3, 4 or 5 — with sustained wind speeds of 111 mph or greater.

“The tropical Atlantic has anomalously warmed over the past several months, and it appears that the chances of an El Nino event this summer and fall are unlikely,” Klotzbach said. “Typically, El Nino is associated with stronger vertical shear across the tropical Atlantic, creating conditions less conducive for storm formation.”

The lack of a predicted El Nino last year was one of the causes of the poor forecast in 2012, says Gray. “We thought an El Nino was coming,” he said, but it never formed. He also added that seven of the 10 hurricanes that developed in 2012 were in the northeastern Atlantic, far from land.

The Colorado State team’s seasonal forecasts tend to be conservative: Since 2000, the team has underforecast the number of named tropical storms and hurricanes seven times, overforecast three times and been almost right — within two storms — three times, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

Their forecasts in both 2010 and 2011 were quite good, Gray noted. In 2010, they forecast 15 storms (19 formed) and in 2011, they forecast 16 storms (19 formed).

Insurance companies, emergency managers and the news media use the forecasts from Colorado State to prepare Americans for the season’s likely hurricane threat. The team’s annual predictions are intended to provide a best estimate of activity to be experienced during the upcoming season, not an exact measure, according to Colorado State.

For the entire U.S. coastline, there is a 72% chance of a major hurricane making landfall in 2013. Specifically, for the East Coast, including all of Florida, the chance of a major hurricane strike is 48%, while the chance along the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to Brownsville, Texas, is 47%.

Colorado State’s team will issue another seasonal forecast update on June 3, with additional updates released as the hurricane season progresses.

Earlier this week, the Weather Channel made its seasonal hurricane prediction: 16 named storms, of which nine will be hurricanes, of which five will be major hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be issuing its hurricane forecast in May.

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