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NOAA’s Hurricane Forecast Calls for More Active Season

We’re now halfway through the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has updated its projections for overall storm activity. By the time the season ends on November 30, NOAA reports we should see a total of 12-17 named storms (that is, storms with sustained winds of more than 39 mph), of which 5-8 will be hurricanes (74 mph-plus) and 2-3 could be major hurricanes (winds above 111 mph). 

An infrared satellite image of Ernesto, which was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane on Tuesday.
Credit: NOAA

That’s an increase from the preseason estimates issued last May (9-15 named storms, 4-8 hurricanes, 1-3 major hurricanes), and just like a political poll, the further along you are in the season, the more reliable the forecasts are. According to a statement by Gerry Bell, lead seasonal forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, in a press release, the upgrade comes “because storm-conducive wind patterns and warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures are now in place in the Atlantic.” Heat from the ocean is where hurricanes get their energy, while winds blowing in different directions or at different speeds at different altitudes, a phenomenon known as wind shear, can keep hurricanes from forming.

The increase in expected tropical storms is somewhat surprising, given that climate forecasters expect an El Niño to develop in the Pacific in August or September. The warm Pacific temperature that comes with this recurring climate pattern tend to increase wind shear in the Atlantic, among many other climate effects, so all other things being equal, you’d expect fewer storms. But, Bell said, “we don’t expect El Niño’s influence until later in the season.”

In addition to ocean heat and wind shear, forecasters point to the active first half of the 2012 season as a reason to expect plenty more storms. So far, we’ve seen six named storms (Tropical storms Alberto, Beryl, Debbie, Florence and hurricanes Chris and Ernesto). Historically, an active first half of the season tends to be followed by an active second half.

Another way to look at the forecast upgrade is that while the chance of a near-normal hurricane season (12 storms, six hurricanes, three major hurricanes) remain at 50-50, just as they were in the spring, the likelihood of an above-normal season have jumped to 35 percent, while the chance of a below-normal season has dropped to just 15 percent.

A hurricane forecast is also like a political poll in that even when it comes late in the game, it’s not foolproof. There could be fewer storms than forecasters expect, and even if we end up with several major hurricanes, the impact won’t be great if they stay far from populated areas.

And it’s also worth noting that the quietest of seasons can still be deadly. Back in 1992, there were relatively few tropical storms — but that’s also the year the Category 5 Hurricane Andrew slammed into Florida, causing more than $26 billion in damage. It was the third costliest tropical storm in U.S. history. 


By Stuart Leiderman
on August 13th, 2012

Sorry, but we should not be fooled or impressed by this feigned professionalism.  The article is about a revised forecast, not an “update.”  An update is something that states cumulative numbers or impacts, to bring readers and users “up to date.”  They are not synonymous. 

Nor is it an “upgrade” per the text in the second and fifth paragraphs.  An upgrade is something that is of clear benefit or unexpectedly higher value to a purchaser of a product or service; again, it has nothing to do with a revised forecast.  In fact, in this case, the forecast could be called a “downgrade” because it bears worse news than the previous forecast.

What is clear to me is that the state of communications, even among American science-based institutions such as NOAA continues to devolve into grunts and shuffles that translate into “Oops, I’m sorry.” 

This article is just filler with journalistic spin that engenders no confidence.  It would have been better to just post the actual NOAA forecast revision,  

We need our hurricane “updates” directly from the horse’s mouth, not from another part of its anatomy.


Stuart Leiderman

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By Charles Malley (Bremerton WA 98312)
on August 13th, 2012

The “active” first half of the season produced 6 named storms.  If the second half of the year produces the same amount, then that will be 12 named storms, right in the middle of the May prediction.  It is also the low end of the revised prediction.  The predicted number of hurricanes changed from 4-8 hurricanes to 5-8 hurricanes.  The predicted number of major hurricanes changed from 1-3 to 2-3.  I am not sure I would call these new predictions an increase at all, let alone an increase that is dramatic enough to be newsworthy.

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By David Zellmer (Norfolk, VA 23507)
on August 19th, 2012

Stuart;  FYI, your semantic constraints are not shared by everyone.  I understand “update” in this case to be an updating of an earlier forecast.  Even if the previous forecast was (merely) reaffirmed in its entirety, it would still be an “update”, based on the assessment of more recent data.  It is, however, also an “upgrade” in that the (updated) forecast predicts increased tropical storm/hurricane occurrences.  To “upgrade” need not imply a higher beneficial value, but simply a increased or progression. 

Charles:  “halfway through the season” refers to the amount of time, not the number of storms.  The former measure (time) is fairly well known while the latter (# of storms) is less certain, hence the prediction.  Presumably they are expecting more storms in the later half of the time period which most folks refer to as “the hurricane season”.  Depends on what you call “newsworthy”; it is an update of the earlier forecast, and also an upgrade, if only a slight one.

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