Analyzing the Predictions for the 2016 Hurricane Season

By Vernon Trollinger, June 3, 2016, Hurricane Prep

What You Need to Know about this Year’s Storms

Officially, the Atlantic Hurricane season begins from June 1st through November 30th. This year’s first storm, Hurricane Alex, got off to an overly eager start, forming on January 6 off the northern coast of Cuba. It then strengthened as it wandered north and northeast, becoming a full fledged hurricane on January 14, but it weakened into a tropical storm when it hit the Azores Islands (about 850 miles west of Portugal) and then dispersed entirely as it entered the North Atlantic.

Hurricane Predictions for 2016

NOAA Prediction CSU Prediction Weather Co Prediction TSR Prediction Seasonal Average, 1981-2010
Number of named storms
(winds 39 mph+)
10-16 12 14 17 (±4) 12
Storms becoming hurricanes
(winds 74 mph+)
4-8 5 9 9 (±3) 6
Major hurricanes
(Cat. 3, 4 or 5, winds 111 mph+)
1-4 2 3 4 (±2) 3


“Faith, it’s an uncertain world entirely.” Captain Blood

While Alex (even the recent short-lived tropical storm Bonnie) might herald a rough season ahead, the expectations for storm activity are mired in uncertainty. While some experts are confident in their predictions, several factors muddy the waters. This year’s forecasts hinge on three main points:

1) A Weakening El Niño – The current El Niño/Southern Oscillation is fading towards a neutral state. It’s expected (75%) to transition to a La Niña between August and October, the height of hurricane season. El Niños produce eastward blowing wind shears off the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean Sea that stretch out to the hurricane Main Development Region (MDR) — just off the west African coast. Hurricanes like to form over warm water in quiet, calmly rising air and then build into strong convection systems. El Niño’s wind shearing disrupts those air currents and makes it harder for storms to form. La Niñas tend to have very little wind shearing. But how fast the El Niño transitions to a La Niña and how strong that will be isn’t precisely clear.

2) Sea Surface Temperatures (SST) – While warm water is in place off the eastern US coast, colder water in the north Atlantic and off the coast of west Africa adjacent to the MDR could reduce chances for storm formation because cold water can’t provide very much heat energy to a hurricane. On the other hand, these temperatures could warm sharply as the summer wears on.

3) The Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO) – The AMO is a climate pattern that lasts between 25 to 40 years when SSTs in the North Atlantic and the MDR are both warmer or cooler. During warmer SST periods, we expeience above-normal hurricane activity. During cooler SST periods, the hurricane activity is generally below-normal. The question for 2016 is whether the high-activity period that began in 1995 is ending, has ended, or yet ongoing.

Who Makes These Predictions?

Analyzing the Predictions for the 2016 Hurricane Season

The forecasts for 2016 are split between a near-normal to average season and an active to moderately active season. Distinctions aside, this hurricane season is expected to be more lively than last year. The following forecasts are from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center, Colorado State University (CSU), the Weather Company (formerly Weather Services International), Tropical Storm Risk (TSR) of the Dept. of Space and Climate Physics, University College London.

1) NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center’s outlook prediction calls for a 45% chance of a near-normal season— but includes a 30% chance of an above-normal season and a 25% chance of a below-normal season. The factors we listed above frustrate any hint at certainty:

  • The rate the current El Niño fades into a La Niña and its strength.
  • The status of the AMO. Has a cooling phase begun or is it still in a warm AMO phase?
  • Fluctuations in Atlantic SSTs. It is unclear if the observed SST changes over the past three years indicate changes in the AMO or if they reflect short-term variability. Sea surface temperatures in the north Atlantic and in the MDR from January to April were cooler than average. However, last year’s SST in the MDR warmed as summer progressed to becoming the 5th highest on record, and this isn’t consistent with a cooling phase.

2) CSU forecasts an average season. This is based on the potential emergence of La Niña in September, the belief that the AMO has entered a cold phase, and the chance that cold water in the North Atlantic might interact with strong Atlantic high pressure circulations to drive ocean currents carrying cold water southward to the MDR.

3) The Weather Company forecasts an active season especially during the August-October months once cold waters warm in the MDR and when that La Niña develops. They also foresee the hottest summer since 2012 throughout the majority of the US, especially in northern states.

4) TSR forecasts a moderately active hurricane season, though it expects warmer SSTs in the MDR during August and September with fading winds shearing due to the emerging La Niña. The speed of the La Niña emergence and its potential strength drive this prediction’s uncertainties.

What Else Should I Know about the Hurricane Season?

Analyzing the Predictions for the 2016 Hurricane Season

By comparison, 2014 and 2015 were below normal seasons. Last year saw 11 tropical storms, 4 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. In 2014, there were 8 named tropical storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes.

Updates from CSU and NOAA’s National Hurricane Center will appear in later June, and the NOAA will also issue a further update in early August. Once we can dig into those, we’ll give you an update on what has and will happen in 2016.

In the meantime, remember that it only takes one storm to cause a crisis. In addition to wind damage, storms with sudden high rainfall amounts can cause flash flooding — which can be deadly even in low-lying areas a hundred miles inland.

This summer, keep you and your family prepared with a variety of resources from Bounce Energy, including:

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A native of Wyomissing Hills, PA, Vernon Trollinger studied writing and film at the University of Iowa, later earning his MA in writing there as well. Following a decade of digging in CRM archaeology, he now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, DIY projects, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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