NOAA: average season expected

Published 1:06 am Friday, May 25, 2012

A satellite image of Hurricane Ivan, which was take by NOAA on Sept. 15, 2004.

Conditions in the atmosphere and the ocean favor a near-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin this season, NOAA announced Thursday from Miami at its Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, and home to the Hurricane Research Division.

But, residents shouldn’t let their guard down, Covington County EMA Director Susan Harris said.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center forecast for the entire six-month season, which begins June 1, is a 70 percent chance of nine to 15 named storms with top winds of 39 mph or higher, of which four to eight will strengthen to a hurricane. Of those, one to three will become major hurricanes with top winds of 111 mph or higher, ranking Category 3, 4 or 5.

Based on the period 1981-2010, an average season produces 12 named storms with six hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

“NOAA’s outlook predicts a less active season compared to recent years,” said NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco. “But regardless of the outlook, it’s vital for anyone living or vacationing in hurricane-prone locations to be prepared. We have a stark reminder this year with the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew.”

Andrew, the Category 5 hurricane that devastated south Florida on Aug. 24, 1992, was the first storm in a late-starting season that produced only six named storms.

Harris said the description is keeping the prediction in its proper context.

“It only takes one storm,” she said, citing Hurricane Andrew. “That storm happened in a year when the number of storms was well below normal for the total number of storms per year.”

Hours after NOAA released its prediction, satellite and surface observations indicated an area of low pressure located over the middle Florida Keys and Florida Bay that may develop into a tropical or subtropical storm.

At present, this system is producing sustained winds approaching 30 mph with wind gusts exceeding tropical storm force.

The large area of showers and thunderstorms associated with the system remain disorganized due to strong upper-level winds. However, conditions are favorable for the formation of a subtropical or tropical cyclone by Saturday as the system moves northeast into the Atlantic Ocean.

This system has a medium chance – 40 percent – of becoming a tropical or subtropical storm in the next 48 hours – and just in time for the South to usher in Hurricane Preparedness Week, which begins on Sunday and ends June 2.