The Daily Weather Channel: El Nino likely to cause major hurricanes

Editor’s Note — Experts at The Weather Channel were able to forecast the Hurricane Season of 2015 with 81% accuracy. Read the report here

(CNN) — Who’s ready for more hurricanes in the Atlantic?

As of March 31, El Nino conditions were in place, meaning warmer-than-normal water is in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It’s “one of the strongest El Nino conditions ever seen,” according to The Weather Channel’s Joe Bastardi . The global agency is forecasting an active Atlantic hurricane season, with about 13 named storms, which have the potential to become hurricanes and some of which have the potential to become major hurricanes, to develop.

“The beginning of April was the strongest start to any hurricane season since 1948, including with three months left to go in this 2016 season,” said Jennifer Hellman, The Weather Channel’s head of science.

Bastardi predicts that the season will produce between 10 to 16 named storms, of which 5 to 9 will become hurricanes. Of those, 2 to 4 could be major hurricanes with sustained winds of at least 111 mph — the upper end of the seasonal intensity scale. So the forecast leans toward more tropical storm activity than Hurricane season experts who gathered last month in Miami for the American Meteorological Society’s annual conference.

“This El Nino sets us up for an above average hurricane season this year, which comes on the heels of a below average tropical cyclone season in 2016,” Hellman said. The 2016 hurricane season saw 7.61 named storms, including 3.66 hurricanes, 0.62 of which were major hurricanes, according to preliminary U.S. National Hurricane Center data. “Much of the bad fortune with 2015 and 2016 results from weak versus weak El Nino conditions, which was right at the start of this hurricane season and allowed systems to race toward the North and West Coasts.”

Four of the 10 deadliest hurricanes to hit the United States in the 20th century came in the years of 1989 (Tropical Storm Hugo), 1996 (Hurricane Andrew), 2004 (Hurricane Katrina) and 2005 (Hurricane Wilma), Hellman noted. Three of those four came during El Nino years.

“What makes this year so interesting is that we have a weak La Nina in place that will likely reverse at the end of this season,” Hellman said.

A weak La Nina occurs when waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean cool, slowing the circulation of tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons, according to The Weather Channel’s 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast. A weak El Nino — the opposite to La Nina — results in waters warming in the tropical Pacific, “muddying the waters and making conditions for storminess more favorable,” Hellman said.

The Weather Channel’s models agree that a strengthening La Nina will begin toward the end of the Atlantic hurricane season. “Weather simulations show that the formation of an El Nino will become all the more likely as we enter May,” Hellman said.

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