The possibility of an active hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean this year should have come as no surprise, however. Thanks to science, the world was warned.
“We had predicted that this was going to be an active season,” Gerry Bell, a hurricane climate specialist and research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, told HuffPost earlier this month. At the time, Irma was barreling through the Caribbean as a Category 5 storm, shattering a slew of records along the way.
Forecasting major hurricanes is no easy task, as these storms are surprisingly fragile and require specific conditions to create and maintain their power. But the Atlantic environment has been ripe with opportunity this year.
In May, a week before the hurricane season kicked off, Bell and other forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center estimated a 45 percent chance of an above-normal season, with the development of between 11 and 17 named tropical storms. Two to four of those storms, the agency predicted, would become major hurricanes — that is Category 3 or higher.
“The outlook,” Bell said in a statement at the time, “reflects our expectation of a weak or nonexistent El Nino, near- or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region.”
The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. If the first two and a half months are any indication, 2017 could rival some of the most active seasons on record.
As of Wednesday, there have been 13 named tropical cyclones — Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee and Maria. Four major hurricanes are already on the books — Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria — each of which actually reached Category 4 or greater.
An “average” hurricane season, as defined by NOAA, produces 12 named storms, including three major hurricanes.
Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University, noted on Twitter just how active the beginning of the 2017 hurricane season has been.
Other forecasters had made seasonal predictions similar to NOAA’s. Klotzbach estimated there would be 14 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes in the Atlantic. The Weather Company anticipated 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
The most active Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history was 2005, which saw a total of 28 tropical storms, including 15 hurricanes and seven major hurricanes. Hurricane Wilma struck Florida on Oct. 25 of that year. After that, the contiguous United States went nearly 12 years without a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) making landfall — the longest period on U.S. record. Hurricane Harvey ended that streak when it slammed into the Texas Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm, triggering catastrophic flooding.
As far as accurate forecasting goes, President Donald Trump’s proposed budget won’t do federal weather experts any favors. It calls for large cuts to the National Weather Service modeling program, as well as the service’s parent agency NOAA.
Weather forecasts would become “nearly impossible” if Trump gets his way, according to Mashable’s Andrew Freedman.
“This budget would ensure that NOAA-NWS becomes a second- or third-tier weather forecasting enterprise, frozen in the early 2000s,” David Titley, NOAA’s former chief operating officer, told The Washington Post in May.