Gerry Bell: Expect active Atlantic hurricane season in 2011

This week, NOAA updated its outlook for 2011 Atlantic hurricanes. The new outlook anticipates even more hurricanes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) updated its seasonal outlook of 2011 Atlantic hurricanes this week (August 4, 2011). The new outlook anticipates even more hurricanes than the original outlook issued in June. NOAA strongly recommends that people living along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts plan to get ready for a hurricane strike in 2011. To learn how to prepare for a hurricane, go to ready.gov or nhc.noaa.gov.

Hurricane Ike seen from the International Space Station

Hurricane Ike seen from the International Space Station

EarthSky spoke to Dr. Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane season forecaster at the National Weather Service, after an August 4 press conference on what to expect from hurricanes for the active hurricane season of June through November 2011.

We predict this season will become the 12th active season in the last 17 years. So we remain in a high activity era for Atlantic hurricanes, which began back in 1995. For the overall season we’re expecting 14 to 19 named storms, of which seven to 10 are expected to become hurricanes. And three to five are expected to become major hurricanes.

Munster, IN, September 13, 2008.  These residents are boating down a street in Indiana as a result of flooding caused by severe storms which were the remnants of Hurricane Ike. (FEMA)

Munster, Indiana, September 13, 2008. These residents are boating down a street in Indiana as a result of flooding caused by severe storms which were the remnants of Hurricane Ike. Image Credit: FEMA

Conditions in the Atlantic Ocean in summer 2011 are ripe for hurricanes, explained Dr. Bell. He listed several reasons:

First, in May, there was some uncertainty about how strong the season would be, because there was the potential that El Nino could develop. El Nino typically reduces hurricane activity. [But] El Nino has not developed.

Second, in May, there was a little bit of uncertainty about exactly how warm the ocean temperatures would be, come the peak months of the hurricane season, August through October. The Atlantic ocean temperatures have remained well above average.

So it’s that combination of factors – in addition to the fact that the wind, the air pressure, ocean temperature patterns are now in place and are very conducive for an active season. All of these factors go together not only to give us a high likelihood of an active season, but also even a higher confidence than we had in May that the season will be active.

The U.S. has been lucky in recent years in that hurricanes haven’t made landfall along U.S. coastlines since Hurricane Ike did in 2008. Gerry Bell explained why.

Where a hurricane strikes and how many hurricanes strike are very dependent on the steering patterns. Typically, we have a much higher likelihood of hurricanes striking both the Gulf Coast and the East Coast as the seasons are more active. Now, 2009 was a pretty inactive season. We didn’t have a lot of activity. So it’s not surprising that we didn’t have any landfalls in 2009.

Last year, 2010, was a very active season. And I’ll tell you, the United States was very lucky, because that was the first season of such activity that we did not have hurricanes strike in the United States. It’s not that there weren’t hurricanes. Nine named storms struck the region around the Caribbean Sea, five as hurricanes. There was a lot of damage. So while we were lucky last year, a lot of other areas were not so fortunate.

EarthSky asked Dr. Bell what he thought was most important for people to know about hurricanes in 2011.

The most important thing that you need to know is that we’re expecting an active season. We’re expecting a lot of activity for the remainder of the season. Therefore, if you are an Atlantic or Gulf Coast resident, you need to make sure that you have your hurricane preparedness plan in place now. Because once a hurricane forms and starts threatening, it’s too late to start getting things together. Get them together now, so that if you are asked to evacuate or do whatever you need to do, you’re prepared to do it in a timely fashion to best mitigate the impacts for yourself and your family.

Ready.gov is one link for more information on preparing for a hurricane. Also, the National Hurricane Center’s website www.nhc.noaa.gov both have excellent information about things you need to think about for your situation to help you prepare for the Atlantic hurricane seasons. But now is the time to finish up your plans if you haven’t done so. The best scenario is that you start finishing up your hurricane preparedness plans in June when the hurricane season starts.

Bottom line: Scientists at NOAA updated their annual hurricane forecast on August 4, 2011, saying they expect a very active Atlantic hurricane season this year. Gerry Bell, lead hurricane season forecaster at the National Weather Serviced, told EarthSky that conditions are ripe in the Atlantic for hurricanes to form. NOAA urges people living along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast to finalize their plans for what they and their families will do in the event of a hurricane.

Jorge Salazar