An unusually active hurricane season may be on the horizon according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's first forecast released Thursday.
NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is calling for an active to very active season, with between 13 and 20 named storms. Of those storms, seven to 11 could become hurricanes and three to six of those storms could become major hurricanes, according to the forecast.
The forecast does not identify what parts of the coastline are most at risk for a storm to make landfall because the weather processes that drive storms into land are highly variable, said Kathryn Sullivan, acting under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and acting NOAA Administrator.
"We can tell you your risk exposure could be high to very high along the Mid-Atlantic or Gulf Coast," she said. "If you live along the shorelines, this is your warning."
Hurricane season begins June 1 and lasts until November 30, though tropical storms have developed before and after those dates depending on conditions in the tropics. The peak of the season typically is August through early October, though powerful storms such as Sandy, which made landfall near Brigantine Oct. 29, can develop at any time.
"It only takes one storm (to be a memorable season)," said David Robinson, New Jersey state climatologist and Rutgers University professor.
The chance of a tropical system slamming into New Jersey, similar to what Sandy and Irene did in 2012 and 2011, is the same as it is every year, Robinson said.
"This does not suggest that New Jersey has a greater or lesser risk of being impacted by storms this summer or fall beyond the fact that there may be more out there and that, of course, can increase the overall odds," he said.
A number of factors are leading to the forecast, Sullivan said. Among those factors are favorable wind patterns that allow hurricanes to develop, warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the tropics and normal sea surface temperatures in the mid-Atlantic, along with other weather patterns near Saharan Africa and the tropical Atlantic Ocean, Robinson said.
The weather service, taking lessons it learned during Hurricane Sandy, also will be revamping how it releases warnings, focusing on the impact to residents in various areas as opposed to technical terms that often lack meaning to the general population, Sullivan said. NOAA also is working on developing new detailed storm surge forecast models, which won't be released until the 2014 hurricane season, Sullivan said.
While Sandy's forecast scientifically was spot-on, with models and forecasters correctly predicting the storm's track more than five days before landfall, some people were confused about the storm's potential impact because the National Hurricane Center did not issue tropical storm or hurricane warnings for New Jersey and New York, according to an analysis report released last week.
"The Sandy forecast was very accurate. What happened was people didn't know how to transfer that accurate forecast into what it meant for them," said Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist in charge, National Weather Service, Mount Holly. "I think people were really expecting an Irene Part II when Sandy came."
Szatkowski and Sullivan both said now is the time for residents to prepare their storm kits and supplies so that if a storm is to strike the region, they are prepared. Szatkowski also said he hopes the lesson from Sandy is that residents, if told to evacuate, will.
"Last year, with Sandy, we saw the potential storm become the reality," he said. "I don't want people to be fearful of hurricane season, but I want them to be prepared."
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