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Early Forecasts Suggest ‘Quiet’ 2019 Hurricane Season

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Hurricane Florence, one of two hurricanes that devastated the U.S. during the 2018 season, lingers over the Carolinas. NOAA / GOES East satellite

Fallen trees from 2018's Hurricane Michael are still a hazard in the Florida Panhandle, but that won't stop the 2019 hurricane season from starting June 1.


As a sign of its approach, scientists have released their first forecasts for the 2019 season, which runs from the beginning of June to Nov. 30. Their predictions do offer some hope for beleaguered residents of the Caribbean, Gulf Coast and Eastern seaboard: The season is expected to be "slightly below average," the Colorado State University (CSU) Tropical Meteorology Project announced Thursday.

The CSU team is predicting 13 named storms, five of which will become hurricanes and two of which be category three to five storms with wind speeds of 111 miles per hour or greater.

2018's hurricane season had 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and two storms category three or higher. Hurricane activity that season was 120 percent of an average season, while this year it is predicted to be 75 percent of average. An average season has 12 storms and six hurricanes.

"From the looks of it, it will be a quiet season," CSU researcher Jhordanne Jones told CNBC.

Last year, CSU's predictions were relatively accurate. The team predicted 14 named storms and seven hurricanes, one less than the final tally in each category, USA Today reported. An average season has 12 storms and six hurricanes.

AccuWeather also released predictions Thursday which roughly agree with CSU's. It predicted 12 to 14 named storms, five to seven hurricanes and two to four high-powered hurricanes.

"This year, we think that there will be a few less tropical storms and lower numbers in hurricanes, but again, the old saying is 'it only takes one'," AccuWeather Atlantic Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said.

In 2018, it only took two. Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence together took 100 U.S. lives and caused almost $50 billion dollars worth of damage, according to USA Today. Hurricane Florence, which caused historic flooding in the Carolinas, was calculated to be 50 percent wetter due to climate change. Micheal intensified rapidly because of above-average water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico to become the fourth strongest storm to ever make landfall in the U.S. Its intensification was consistent with predictions for the impact of global warming on tropical storms.

In 2019, lower ocean temperatures are one of the reasons CSU is predicting a slightly calmer season. The tropical Atlantic is cooler than average, which both reduces the chances hurricanes will intensify like Michael did and signals a more stable, drier atmosphere less likely to form thunderheads.

The second reason is that a weak El Niño has formed in the Pacific, and El Niño conditions are expected to persist through the season. The westerly winds encouraged by El Niño conditions in the Caribbean into the tropical Atlantic disperse hurricanes as they form.

AccuWeather also predicted the current El Niño would last through the peak of hurricane season.

"If this current El Niño continues or strengthens, then the number of tropical storms and hurricanes will be near or below normal," Kottlowski said. "If the El Niño weakens and goes neutral, the number of tropical storms and hurricanes could actually be higher than normal."

CSU also predicted the chance that a hurricane would make landfall in a particular area. The probabilities were:

48 percent for the entire U.S. coastline (average for the last century is 52 percent)

28 percent for the U.S. East Coast including the Florida peninsula (average for the last century is 31 percent)

28 percent for the Gulf Coast from the Florida panhandle westward to Brownsville (average for the last century is 30 percent)

39 percent for the Caribbean (average for the last century is 42 percent)

CSU will release additional forecasts June 4, July 2 and Aug. 6. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release a forecast of its own in mid May.

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