Nova Scotia

Atlantic hurricane season expected to be 'near normal'

A "near-normal" hurricane season is expected in the Atlantic Ocean this year, with between four to eight hurricanes predicted, though there's no way to know how many of them might affect Canada.

'Light' hurricane season can still produce one whopper, like hurricane Andrew in 1992

The eye of Hurricane Arthur, clearly visible from space, was photographed by Reid Wiseman aboard the International Space Station in the summer of 2014. (Reid Wiseman/Twitter)

A "near-normal" hurricane season is expected in the Atlantic Ocean this year, with between four to eight hurricanes predicted, though there's no way to know how many of them might affect Canada, meteorologists say.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there's a 70-per cent likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms, of which four to eight could become hurricanes. Of those, one to four could be major with winds over 178 km/h.

"A near-normal prediction for this season suggests we could see more hurricane activity than we've seen in the last three years, which were below normal," Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster, said in a NOAA news release.

Little impact on Canada last year

In 2015, there were 11 named storms including four hurricanes, of which two were major. The long-term season averages are 12 named storms, with six hurricanes and three major ones.

Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said four of the 2015 storms entered the "Canadian response zone," though there was minimal impact except for some heavy rains and sea swells in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.

It doesn't matter how many storms are out there. It only takes one to make it a really bad year.- Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist

He noted that there's no way to know this far in advance what the tracks of any named storms might be, as it's dependent on the weather of the day.

Robichaud warned people to be vigilant no matter what the long-range predictions are, noting that 1992 was a very light hurricane season that nevertheless included hurricane Andrew, one of the costliest hurricanes ever. 

"It doesn't matter how many storms are out there," he said. "It only takes one to make it a really bad year if that storm hits you or your family."

Robichaud pointed people to Public Safety Canada's website as the best place to find information on how to be ready.

Tricky prediction

The U.S. agency said in its forecast that this season is difficult to predict for a couple of reasons.

Waves crash on shore from high surf at Virginia Beach, Va. (Rich-Joseph Facun/Reuters)
First, Bell said, there is uncertainty over whether a high-activity era of Atlantic hurricanes that began in 1995 — caused in part by warmer Atlantic Ocean temperatures — is over.

The temperatures oscillate over periods of 25 to 40 years, and the last three years, they've been cooler.

Second, the NOAA is predicting a 70 per cent chance that there will be a La Niña during peak hurricane season. Normally that would favour more hurricanes due to reduced wind shear over the Atlantic, but "current model predictions show uncertainty as to how strong La Niña and its impacts will be."

Early hurricane

NOAA included hurricane Alex in its 2016 forecast. Alex was a pre-season storm that formed over the far eastern Atlantic in January.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says an area of low pressure between Bermuda and the Bahamas had a high chance of brewing into something bigger Friday or Saturday.

Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

Rising sea levels are expected to increase the vulnerability of coastal communities to flooding from tropical systems. Recent research indicates climate change is likely to make hurricanes more intense in the future.

Fewer, more intense storms

Improved computer models show that warming atmospheric conditions may hinder tropical cyclone development worldwide, says David Nolan, a University of Miami professor of atmospheric sciences.

But the hurricanes that do form could grow more intense because ocean temperatures will be higher, Nolan says. Warm ocean waters feed hurricanes like fuel in an engine.

"The ones that do occur could be a little bit stronger," Nolan says. "But the changes over the next 10, 20, 30 years would be very small, almost undetectable."

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press