Hurricane Season Forecast Above Normal
Meteorologist Michael Friedmann
Hurricane Season Forecast Above Normal
JOESTRADAMUS has invited Meteorologist Michael Friedmann to lend his opinions and forecasts regarding Hurricane Season 2016. Michael is a meteorologist who has been on the air in the New York area for many years most recently on FiOS1 News and in prior years at Newsradio 88 as well as WLNY on Long Island. This is his hurricane season forecast for 2016. You can follow him on Twitter @weathertalk
2016 Atlantic Basin Hurricane Season Forecast
Meteorologist Michael Friedmann, Host and Founder, WeatherTalk
The 2016 Atlantic hurricane season: will it be a wild ride, or a big yawner? Somewhere in between? As of this writing – just on the heels of the June 1st start of the season – we’re already seeing a disturbance looming east of the Bahamas that will most likely develop into Tropical Storm Bonnie. And we’ve already had an incredible January hurricane, Alex, the first to form in January since 1938.
Generally, publicly-prepared Atlantic season forecasts break down into three simple categories: number of named storms, hurricanes, and major (Cat. 3+) hurricanes. I’ll stick to this, in the interest of clarity.
Statistics. Damn statistics! The web of potential influences on the hurricane season reflects the complex (and chaotic!) interaction of air and sea through exchanges of moisture and heat. These exchanges influence atmospheric air pressure fields, which can inhibit or enable storm intensification. So what do we do? We look at history, see what these air/sea/pressure patterns looked like early in the year, and what type of hurricane season resulted. Then we statistically align them, to see which early indicators correlate, and which don’t. Statistics!
Believe me – even to and educated meteorologist, finding these statistical alignments is stupefying and steeped in reams of painstaking research. Naturally, we rely on computers for help. The exciting part is, though, that these statistics do have real-world meaning in pure scientific terms: the factors we examine have physics-based reasons for making or breaking an active storm season, reasons rooted in the dynamic and thermodynamic laws that govern our skies.
Through the dizzying kaleidoscope of interacting factors, each enhancing or stifling the other over periods of years, often decades, I decided to whittle down my forecast to just a couple or so critical factors that seem to have done well – statistically, of course. And much of my research boiled down to the National Hurricane Center, and two Colorado State University gurus, Phil Klotzbach, PhD, and the late great Dr. William Gray, whose annual forecasts are heady, dense, thorough, much ballyhooed, but – of course – flawed some years. And they address these flaws annually to the point where their forecasts ably outdo climatology – what we would “expect” based on averages – in recent years.
OK: the actual averages (statistics!), based on 1981-2011: 12 named storms (NS), 6 hurricanes (HU), 3 major hurricanes (MH). Major factors, based on “hindcasting” — looking at previous years to see which correlated most strongly – include the state of El Nino and the Atlantic thermohaline.
El Nino: Our gonzo El Nino dating back to last summer is already in decline and we’re headed for a neutral, or La Nina by early fall. Everyone who’s cared to notice knows this, and it is significant – big time! El Nino, or abnormally warm equatorial Pacific surface temperatures, tend to inhibit active Atlantic seasons by throwing abnormal westerly upper air winds that way, winds that shear apart the tightly-woven circulation of a tropical storm. La Nina relaxes those winds, allowing for a more “relaxed” atmospheric wind environment in which Atlantic storms can thrive. I think this will ramp up our season – toward the back end, say late October/November. The European (ECMWF) model forecast of El Nino is highly regarded in research circles, so check out the graphic here:
Hurricane Season Forecast Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly
Atlantic thermohaline: Think thermo (heat) and haline (saltiness). This is the critical Atlantic section of the gigantic global conveyor belt of surface (warm) and deep-down (cold) ocean currents that drive climate, and we believe, tropical cyclone activity. Warm, salty water runs north along the east coast at the surface. It loses heat to the air above, cools, and sinks as it approaches Iceland. The salt is released into the water as some of it freezes into icebergs and ice shelves, making it even denser and sinking the current into the deepest depths, where it makes the long arduous trip south, across the equator, all the way to Antarctica where it is cooled further, releases more salt, and returns northward. It warms, with branches splitting off northbound into the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans.
The sinking of the current up north is called the North Atlantic Deep Water Formation (NADWF). The saltier and warmer the water in the northern current is, the greater the volume of saline water that sinks, the healthier and more defined the NADWF is. The cooler and less saline the northbound surface current, the weaker the NADWF. When it’s weak, the NADWF causes more of the deep cold water to break off from its southern journey and rotate westward, back across the Atlantic, creating the “Atlantic gyre,” or a sort of clockwise whirlpool. So the strength of the NADWF is inversely proportional to the Atlantic gyre.
The payoff, please? When the thermohaline circulation/NADWF is weak, and the Atlantic gyre more defined, cooler water sweeps into the mid and tropical Atlantic, enhancing the trade winds, wind shear, and other factors that have made for (again, statistically) 3-5 times fewer major cyclones, while a strong thermohaline/weak Atlantic gyre makes for that many more cyclones, on average. Currently, the whole Atlantic part of the system, called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation ( it runs weak/strong in 25-30 year cycles), is strong, which should make for more cyclone activity this year. But the North Atlantic has gotten awfully cold since last October, a sign of an abnormally weak AMO, while the tropical Atlantic, still warm, has cooled slightly.
Is it all that simple? We wish. But no dice. Remember that large-scale and long-term patterns can cancel out, or enhance each other. What about trends? We’re coming off three quiet years in a row, after a major uptick in activity that started in 1995. Has the period since 2013, with its “neutral Ninos” and El Nino last year been an oddity, or the start of a prolonged quiet period? Ah, questions.
And lastly, are we “all aces”? ACE (Accumulated Cyclone Energy), an index related to the maximum wind speeds of all the storms in a single season, can run high because of lots of moderate cyclones, or because of a quiet season with one or two big bombs. Last year, under El Nino, our ACE was below average, a powerful Joaquin notwithstanding. Our recent “hyperactive” period of 1998-2000, with its long-lasting La Nina and ACE through the roof, produced just average numbers of storms, but a few of them were huge (Danielle, Georges, Floyd). In 2005, with a neutral Nino, ACE ended up at an unmatched, all-time high; it was the year of Katrina and Wilma.
As if the whole forecast mechanism weren’t complicated enough, there’s the “x-factor”: Saharan dust from North Africa! If enough sandstorms blow up over the desert, and an anticyclonic ridge sets up over the mid-Atlantic (itself favorable for cyclones), that dry, sandy air is carried aloft over the ocean, overtopping cooler, moist ocean air below, creating a stable atmosphere that minimizes the strength of westbound tropical waves.
Hurricane Season Forecast African Dust
Like nor’easter snowstorms, tropical cyclones are precious machines that need just the right sea and atmospheric conditions in which to thrive and explode. Forecasting the strength/weakness of these conditions, and their interactions, is the crux of the whole enterprise (or forecast “problem,” as Gray and Klotzbach have called it). So here goes, WeatherTalkers.
The coming breakdown of El Nino to either cool-neutral or weak La Nina by early fall seems a dead-ringer. And with early signals of a weakening AMO/more defined Atlantic gyre, I won’t stray too far from the “conventional wisdom” of our top researchers. I’m predicting 15 named storms (counting Alex and Bonnie), 7 hurricanes (counting Alex), and 4 major hurricanes. Look for this count to be “back-loaded,” with 3 of the major storms forming after October 1st. And, we are “due” for a U.S. landfall. I expect at least one of these storms to brush, or make U.S. landfall. Happy, safe 2016 everyone!
Follow Michael Friedmann on twitter @weathertalk
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