Nova Scotia

Forecasters call for 'average' Atlantic hurricane season this year

Canadians can expect an average year for hurricane activity, with as many as 15 named storms, including up to four major hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean.

Canadian and U.S. forecasters expect up to 15 named storms, including 4 major hurricanes

Hurricane Igor struck Newfoundland and Labrador in 2010. The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season officially starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30. (NASA)

Canadians can expect an average year for hurricane activity, with as many as 15 named storms, including up to four major hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean.

Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Bob Robichaud presented the 2019 hurricane forecast in Dartmouth, N.S., on Thursday, based on that of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center.

"Basically, what they're calling for is a season that is close to the overall average," Robichaud told reporters. "So we're looking at a season that is close to a little bit below what we had last year in terms of hurricane activity."

The NOAA anticipates there will be nine to 15 named storms, with four to eight of those storms becoming hurricanes and two to four of them developing into major hurricanes with winds of at least 179 km/h.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30, but subtropical storm Andrea kicked off the season a bit early this week, sweeping by Bermuda with minimal effect on land.

Robichaud said forecasters look at ocean temperature, atmospheric winds and long-term cycles of hurricane activity when making yearly predictions.

Bob Robichaud is a meteorologist with the Canadian Hurricane Centre, part of Environment and Climate Change Canada. (Radio-Canada)

He said warmer ocean temperatures in the western Atlantic will be balanced by a "weak El Nino" — the natural and occasional process that warms parts of the Pacific, leading to higher temperatures and more precipitation elsewhere. 

But the Atlantic has been in a period of greater hurricane activity since the mid-1990s, and Robichaud said there are no clear signs that period is coming to an end.

"Until we get some clear indication that we're out of that period of high activity, we have to assume that we're still in there," he said.

Preparation is key

It's crucial that people in the potential path of a storm prepare for it, Robichaud said, noting it's been a few years since the Atlantic region has experienced destructive storms such as Hurricane Arthur in 2014 and Hurricane Juan in 2003.

"People tend to not take any preparedness action if they haven't experienced any kind of hurricane in recent years," he said.

He advised people to keep an eye on weather forecasts to get a heads-up on potentially dangerous weather.

That advice is particularly important in the face of rising sea levels and increased vulnerability to storm surges, Robichaud said.

He said climate change modelling currently shows that in a warmer climate, the frequency of tropical cyclones would be diminished, but the intensity of those storms may increase.

Track record

Last year, there were 15 named storms in the Atlantic Ocean, eight of which earned hurricane status and two that became major hurricanes — Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael.

Robichaud said only two fell within the Canadian response zone. Chris battered Newfoundland with wind and heavy rain as a post-tropical storm in July, and subtropical storm Beryl followed a few days later, bringing more rain to that province.

"So we kind of dodged a bullet here with escaping any kind of major storm activity here in Canada last year," Robichaud said.

CBC meteorologist Ryan Snoddon said the U.S. forecast, which guides the Canadian Hurricane Centre's prediction, has been fairly accurate in recent years.

Snoddon noted an active African monsoon season could increase activity in the Atlantic. But that would also be tempered by an ongoing El Nino, which should increase wind shear and suppress storm development. 

(Ryan Snoddon/CBC)

With files from The Associated Press

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