2016 Hurricane season forecast calls for near-average activity in the Atlantic

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2016 Hurricane Season Forecast

By The Weather Channel

The 2016 Atlantic hurricane season forecast released Thursday from Colorado State University calls for the number of named storms and hurricanes to be near historical averages.

A total of 12 named storms, five hurricanes and two major hurricane are expected this season, according to the forecast prepared by CSU, which is headed by Dr. Phil Klotzbach in consultation with long-time hurricane expert Dr. William Gray.

This is close to the 30-year average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. A major hurricane is one that is Category 3 or stronger on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Those seasonal forecast numbers do not include Hurricane Alex, a rare January hurricane that struck the Azores a few months back. Though the official hurricane season spans the months from June through November, occasionally we can see storms form outside those months.

See images of spring weather around the U.S.:

20 PHOTOS
March/April, early spring weather around the United States
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2016 Hurricane season forecast calls for near-average activity in the Atlantic
Drivers navigate through a heavy rain shower down a bush street, Sunday April 17, 2016, in Richardson, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
A lone bison is blanketed by snow as the animal stands at the buffalo overlook along Interstate 70 as a severe spring storm packing high winds and heavy, wet snow sweeps over the intermountain West Saturday, April 16, 2016, near Evergreen, Colo. While the storm is starting later than predicted, forecasters are expecting driving snow to pummel the region Saturday night into Sunday, which has forced the cancellation of hundreds flights out of Denver's airport. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Visitors stop at a park bench as they enjoy warm weather at Onondaga Lake Park, Sunday, April 17, 2016, in Liverpool, N.Y. The lake is a popular recreational attraction despite is distinction as one of the most polluted in the United States due to a long period of chemical dumping that ended in the mid-1980's. Cleanup efforts to reduce the high levels of mercury and other toxic substances in the lake are ongoing. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Footsteps can be seen on a recently cleared sidewalk during a spring snow storm in Boston, Massachusetts April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Kids play in the surf at Ocean Beach after the sun set in San Francisco, Wednesday, April 6, 2016. A handful of spring heat records are expected to be broken on Wednesday, but then temperatures will fall and the weekend is forecast to be wet. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Fog envelops the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, United States April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Stadium attendant Eileen Higgins, right, stands behind the outfield display as storm clouds gather overhead before a baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies, Wednesday, April 6, 2016, in Cincinnati. The Reds won 3-2. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Malia Obama's hair flies into the air as a cold wind hits her and U.S. President Barack Obama while descending the steps of Air Force One upon their arrival at O'Hare Airport in Chicago April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man carries an umbrella during a rain storm on Wall St. by the New York Stock Exchange in New York April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Falling snow sits on daffodils outside a Newbury Street shop during a spring snow storm in Boston, Massachusetts April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Rain falls at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., Saturday, April 9, 2016, as a storm system brought much-needed rain to Southern California, which is now in its fifth year of drought. Rain showers occurred repeatedly through the day. Rain showers delayed a ball game in the Bay Area and prompted flood advisories as they scooted through California, but the overall rain totals won't do much to ease five years of drought, forecasters said.(AP Photo/John Antczak)
Raindrops and trees are reflected in a puddle during a rainy Wednesday, April 6, 2016, in Chicago. Rains will scatter and become more occasional during the afternoon. Snow and rain is possible on Friday as well with highs failing to reach the 40-degree mark. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
This photo taken Tuesday, April 5, 2016, and provided by Kaitlyn Stone, shows a dust storm near Stratford, Texas. Forecasters say the dust storm, about 100-miles wide, blanketed much of the Texas Panhandle before moving on and dissipating. (Kaitlyn Stone via AP)
Heavy clouds and rain pass over downtown Los Angeles on Friday, April 8, 2016. The first of two weather systems has brought showers to Southern California but rainfall has been scattered and mostly light. The National Weather Service says radar shows showers running across the region early Friday but not much of the rain is reaching the ground. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
A woman whose car was stranded stands in receding street flooding, after severe rainstorms moved through New Orleans, Friday, April 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Traffic passes a cherry blossom tree with limbs broken by the weight of heavy snow along Sparks Boulevard in Sparks, Nev., Monday, March 28, 2016, after a late winter storm dumped more than a half foot of snow on the area the day after Easter. Much of northeast Nevada remained under a winter storm warning into Wednesday with as much as 20 inches of snow possible in the mountains. (AP Photo/By Scott Sonner)
A tornado touches down in Tulsa, Okla., on Wednesday, March 30, 2016. The National Weather Service is confirming multiple tornado touchdowns in the Tulsa area. (AP Photo/Larry Papke)
Storm clouds roll in over Champion Stadium in the seventh inning of a spring training baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros, Friday, March 25, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla. Moments later the game was stopped because of rain. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Visitors walk along the Tidal Basin to look at cherry blossoms in Washington March 24, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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The CSU outlook is based on a combination of 29 years of statistical predictors, combined with analog seasons exhibiting similar features of sea-level pressure and sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific Oceans.

Here are three questions about this outlook and what it means for you.

Q: What Does This Forecast Mean For the U.S.?

There is no strong correlation between the number of storms or hurricanes and U.S. landfalls in any given season. One or more of the 12 named storms forecast to develop this season could hit the U.S., or none at all. Therefore, residents of the coastal United States should prepare each year no matter the forecast.

A couple of classic examples of why you need to be prepared each year occurred in 1992 and 1983.

The 1992 season produced only six named storms and one subtropical storm. However, one of those named storms was Hurricane Andrew, which devastated South Florida as a Category 5 hurricane.

In 1983 there were only four named storms, but one of them was Alicia. The Category 3 hurricane hit the Houston-Galveston area and caused almost as many direct fatalities there as Andrew did in South Florida.

In contrast, the 2010 season was active. There were 19 named storms and 12 hurricanes that formed in the Atlantic Basin.

See image of the deadliest hurricanes:

16 PHOTOS
15 of the deadliest American hurricanes ever
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2016 Hurricane season forecast calls for near-average activity in the Atlantic

Hurricane Hugo, 1989: 21 deaths

Hurricane Hugo made landfall as a Category 4 storm in South Carolina. It caused 21 deaths in the US and resulted in $7.1 billion of damage. At the time, it was the costliest storm in US history.

Photo courtesy: Getty

Tropical Storm Allison, 2001: 41 deaths

While not an official hurricane, Allison clocks in as the costliest and deadliest tropical storm in US history, causing 41 deaths and costing more than $5 billion in damage. The storm started over the Gulf of Mexico near Texas, then traveled east, causing floods like the one pictured here in Houston, Texas.

Photo courtesy: NOAA

Hurricane Irene, 2011: 56 deaths

Hurricane Irene, the first storm to hit the US since Ike three years earlier, made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm. The storm eventually made its way up to New York City, bringing flooding -- like the kind pictured here in Puerto Rico -- and causing $7.3 billion in damage overall.

Photo courtesy: AP

Hurricane Floyd, 1999: 57 deaths

Hurricane Floyd was a catastrophic storm because of the rain it brought along. The rain caused extreme flooding from North Carolina on up as the Category 2 storm traveled up the East Coast.

Photo courtesy: NOAA

Great Atlantic Hurricane, 1944: 64 deaths

The Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 was also devastating to New England, with 64 deaths and more than $100 million in damage. The storm was a Category 3 as it sped up the coast, hitting the Carolinas, Rhode Island, and Long Island before downgrading to a Category 2 in Maine.

Photo courtesy: NOAA

Hurricane Agnes, 1972: 122 deaths

Hurricane Agnes, as seen in this image made it all the way inland to Pennsylvania. Although it was only a Category 1 storm (with winds from 74-95 mph), it still caused 122 deaths and caused $2.1 billion in damage.

Photo courtesy: NOAA

Hurricane Ike, 2008: 195 deaths

The third costliest storm in US history, with $29.5 billion in damage, occurred in September 2008. Starting off the west coast of Africa, Hurricane Ike made its way over the Caribbean and into the Gulf, making US landfall in Texas as a Category 2 storm

Photo courtesy: Reuters

Hurricane Camille, 1969: 256 deaths

Hurricane Camille formed in the Gulf of Mexico and hit Mississippi as a Category 5 storm. Camille caused more than 256 deaths and clocks in as the second most intense hurricane to hit the US.

Photo courtesy: NOAA

New England, 1938: 256 deaths

Nicknamed "Long Island Express," the storm hit Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm before charging north and hitting Long Island, New York and Connecticut as a Category 3 hurricane. The storm was responsible for more than 256 deaths.

Photo courtesy: NOAA

Hurricane Sandy, 2012: 285 deaths

With $71.4 billion in damage, Hurricane Sandy was the second costliest hurricane in US history. The Category 1 storm pummeled New York City, flooding the city's transportation systems and leaving thousands of homes destroyed.

It's looking more and more like Hurricane Joaquin won't make landfall in the US and join the list of most horrific storms in US history.

Photo courtesy: AP

Hurricane Audrey, 1957: 416 deaths

The U.S. started naming storms with women's names starting in 1953. Hurricane Audrey, the first storm of the 1957 hurricane season was the deadliest of the 1950s. It originated in the Gulf of Mexico, making landfall in Texas as a Category 4 storm. This image of the storm shows just how far hurricane imaging has come.

Photo courtesy: NOAA

Atlantic-Gulf, 1919: 600 to 900 deaths

This Category 4 storm swept into the Gulf of Mexico right under Key West, Florida(pictured), landing as a Category 3 storm in Corpus Christi, Texas. Anywhere from 600 to 900 people died in that storm.

Hurricane Katrina, 2005: 1,200 deaths

Hurricane Katrina is arguably the most notorious storm of the 21st century. The storm made landfall as a Category 5 near Miami before striking Louisiana as a Category 3 storm. Katrina was the third deadliest, and costliest hurricane in U.S. history with more than 1,200 deaths and $108 billion in damage.

Photo courtesy: Reuters

San Felipe Okeechobee, 1928: 2,500 deaths

This hurricane was the second deadliest in US history, with more than 2,500 deaths. The Category 4 storm made landfall in Palm Beach on September 10, 1928. Puerto Rico got hit hard as well, with winds at 144 mph.

Photo courtesy: NOAA

Galveston, Texas in 1900: 8,000 to 12,000 deaths

The deadliest hurricane in US history happened at the turn of the 20th century. The Category 4 of 5 hurricane -- with winds anywhere from 130-156 mph -- made landfall in Galveston, Texas (pictured), then headed north through the Great Plains. Anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 people died in the storm.

Photo courtesy: Creative Commons

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Despite the large number of storms that year, not a single hurricane and only one tropical storm made landfall in the United States.

In other words, a season can deliver many storms, but have little impact, or deliver few storms and have one or more hitting the U.S. coast with major impact.

The U.S. averages between 1 to 2 hurricane landfalls each season, according to NOAA's Hurricane Research Division statistics. However, the number of U.S. landfalls has been much below average in the last decade.

The current 10-year running total (2006-2015) of U.S. hurricane landfalls is seven, according to Alex Lamers, a meteorologist with The National Weather Service. This is a record low for any 10-year period dating to 1850, and is considerably lower than the average of 17 per 10-year period dating to 1850, Lamers added.

U.S. hurricane landfalls the last 10 years. Note: Sandy in 2012 is not shown since it officially made landfall as a non-tropical cyclone.

Of course, the record-breaking 2005 hurricane season is now outside that current 10-year running total. 2005 was also the last season we saw a Category 3 or stronger hurricane (Wilma) hit the U.S., the longest such streak dating to the mid-19th century.

READ MORE: Florida Hurricane Drought Continues

Bottom line: The U.S. is due for another hurricane strike sooner rather than later, but it's impossible to know if that will occur this season. Keep in mind, however, that even a weak tropical storm hitting the U.S. can cause major impacts, particularly if it moves slowly, resulting in flooding rainfall.

Q: Will El Niño or La Niña play a role?

The strong El Niño we saw this winter continues to fade away and may transition to its counterpart La Niña by this fall. Of course, if this handoff from El Niño to La Niña conditions occurs, it could happen during the middle of the 2016 hurricane season.

Klotzbach said that the transition from El Niño to neutral or La Niña conditions during the 2016 hurricane season makes this particular April hurricane outlook very uncertain.

Using the El Niño intensity classification scheme from consultant meteorologist Jan Null, we examined five previous hurricane seasons following strong El Niños. The statistics from each of those seasons is below.

As you can see, there's quite a spread, ranging from a record low four named storms in 1983 to 14 such storms in 1998.

See images of the top 5 U.S. cities most vulnerable to be hit by hurricanes:

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Top 5 US cities most vulnerable to hurricanes
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2016 Hurricane season forecast calls for near-average activity in the Atlantic

5. New Orleans, Louisiana

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 shined the light on how devastating a tropical system can be for the city of New Orleans. Like Tampa, The Big Easy has an 11 percent chance of experiencing the impact of a hurricane in an average year. According to NOAA, a hurricane makes landfall within 50 miles of New Orleans about once every seven to 11 years.

The city has since made drastic improvements to its levee system since Katrina left most of the city under several feet of water. Nevertheless, with more than 50 percent of the city living below sea level and the rapid sinking of marshy coastal land in southeastern Louisiana, New Orleans still remains highly vulnerable to storm surge during a major hurricane.

"The Mississippi River is almost 30 feet above the city level just to put in perspective of how low New Orleans is in terms of elevation," Samuhel said. "The land around New Orleans is sinking, which puts the city in more danger if another major hurricane strike."

(Photo credit: Getty)

4. Tampa, Florida

The western coast of Florida has endured its share of hurricanes, and the city of Tampa is no exception. The Tampa-St. Petersburg area has an 11 percent chance of feeling the impacts of a hurricane in any given year. Tampa, situated on a peninsula lying along Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, is exposed to hurricanes entering the Gulf and systems forming in the Atlantic. Many of the 347,645 people living in the area have homes along the coast, making residents susceptible to storm surge.

"Like Miami, Tampa is a large metropolitan area and the effects of a hurricane would be widespread throughout the city," Samuhel explained. "Because it is located by the shallow Tampa Bay, water piles up into the city, causing very significant storm surge along the coastline."

The city hasn't suffered a direct hit by a strong hurricane since the 1921 Tampa Bay Hurricane, the first major hurricane to hit the city, but 68 tropical storms and hurricanes have passed within 60 miles of the city according to Hurricane City. Most recently in 2004, Hurricane Charley caused $16 billion in damages when the Category 4 storm made landfall just south of Tampa.

(Photo credit: Alamy) 

3. Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

Located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Cape Hatteras has a 15 percent chance of feeling the impacts of a hurricane in any given year. Cape Hatteras is positioned 280 miles farther east than Palm Beach, Florida, (easternmost location of the Florida coast). As a result, Cape Hatteras has been exposed in the past to hurricanes that move up the Eastern Seaboard.

"Cape Hatteras is very close to the Gulf Stream, which enables hurricanes to strengthen due to warmer ocean temperatures during the summer," Samuhel explained. "Typically, when tropical systems get caught in the jet stream off the East Coast of the U.S., they tend to curve out to sea, but because of the location of Hatteras, hurricanes tend to clip that region before affecting anywhere else on the East Coast."

When Hurricane Isabel struck the region in 2003, the Army Corp of Engineers was forced to fill up an inlet that was created when the storm split Hatteras Island between Frisco and Hatteras, North Carolina.

(Photo credit: AP) 

2. Key West, Florida

Key West, like Miami, has a 16 percent chance of being impacted by a hurricane during any Atlantic hurricane season. Known as the Southernmost City in the Continental United States, Key West is directly impacted by a hurricane every 5.96 years, according to Hurricane City.

The Florida Keys are an archipelago of about 1,700 islands spanning 113 miles with Key West located at the southern tip. With the Atlantic Ocean to the south and east and the Gulf of Mexico to the north and west, the coastal town is exposed to all sides to passing hurricanes.

Key West with maximum elevation of 18 feet above sea level makes it susceptible to heavy flooding and storm surge during a hurricane event. Hurricane Wilma in 2004, regarded as the worst storm to hit the area, passed just west of Key West and produced a storm surge of 8 feet leaving 60-70 percent of the island under water.

"Key West has faced several situations in the past where it has been brushed or directly affected by some of the strongest hurricanes to hit the United States. This includes the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane which was remembered as one of the most intense U.S. hurricanes based on pressure and maximum wind speeds," Samuhel said. "Because Key West is so far from the mainland, evacuating people can be a difficult challenge during a hurricane event."

(Photo credit: Shutterstock) 

1. Miami, Florida

Miami takes the number one spot on this list with a 16 percent chance of experiencing the impacts of a hurricane in any given year. Based on historical data, on average a hurricane will pass within 50 miles of the Miami metropolitan area every six to eight years. With the Atlantic Ocean to the east and a maximum elevation of 42 feet above sea level Miami's geography makes it highly vulnerable to hurricanes.

In addition to this, a majority of the population resides within 20 miles of the coastline increasing the risk of high property damage.

"Miami has a large population density, and as a result, the effects of a major hurricane would be catastrophic to the city," AccuWeather Meteorologist David Samuhel said. "Also, because of its southern location, Miami is probably the largest city on this list to see a Category 4 or 5 hurricane in the future."

Although a major hurricane is long overdue in Miami, the city has dealt with its share of intense hurricanes in the past. The last major hurricane to affect the city was Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which packed winds of 165 mph and currently holds the record as the third strongest U.S. landfalling hurricane. Andrew's total damage cost was $26.5 billion as communities in the surrounding areas were severely affected due to its intense winds and high storm surge.

(Photo credit: Shutterstock) 

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The 1998 season featured seven U.S. landfalling tropical cyclones, three of which - Bonnie, Earl, and Georges - were hurricanes at landfall.

Despite only four named storms in 1983, two of those made U.S. landfall, including Category 3 Hurricane Alicia in southeast Texas.

This again illustrates the poor correlation between the number of named storms or hurricanes and landfalls.

In all, there have been a total of six U.S. hurricane landfalls in the five post-strong El Niño seasons dating to 1958, for an average of roughly one a season. Two of those five seasons were without a U.S. hurricane landfall, however.

Klotzbach found that the chance of a U.S. hurricane impact rises dramatically in a La Niña or neutral (neither El Niño or La Niña) season compared to an El Niño season.

Without El Niño contributing to stronger wind shear and dry air in the Caribbean Sea like we saw in 2015, it at least loads the dice toward an increased chance of tropical cyclones surviving into the Caribbean Sea, or forming there in 2016, particularly later in the season as El Niño disappears farther in the rear-view mirror.

Q: What Other Factors Are in Play?

The three previous Atlantic hurricane seasons featured either few named storms (2014; 8) or a greater number of storms, but few of which survived long or became hurricanes (2013 and 2015).

2013 and 2014 featured prohibitive dry air and/or wind shear during a significant part of the season, but El Niño was nowhere to be found.

In 2015, El Niño likely played a significant suppressing role in the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season. Klotzbach found that June through October 2015 Caribbean wind shear was the highest on record dating to 1979. Klotzbach also said the magnitude of dry air over the Caribbean Sea in the peak season month of August and September also set a record.

As you can see, dry air and wind shear can detrimental to tropical storm or hurricane development no matter whether El Niño is present or not. This is one factor to watch for in the 2016 season.

Klotzbach said that wind shear enhanced by El Niño is likely to dissipate the next several months. However, he added that the northern Atlantic Ocean has water temperatures that are colder than average which can cause atmospheric conditions to be unfavorable for the development and strengthening of Atlantic hurricanes.

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