Dale C. S. Destin |
Early forecasts just issued for the upcoming 2016 Atlantic hurricane season (AHS) indicate a near normal season is most likely. However, relative to the past three years, this season could be much more active.
The ensemble (mean) forecast, based on predictions from Klotzbach of Colorado State University, Saunders and Lea of Tropical Storm Risk.com (TSR) and AccuWeather.com, is for 13 named storms, 6 becoming hurricanes and 3 becoming major hurricanes.
A better indicator of the activity for the season is the accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) index which is a measurement of the strength and duration of each tropical cyclone. Summing together the ACE of each cyclone, provides a more complete picture of how active the season is likely to be outside of just the number of storms.
This year, the ensemble forecast calls for an ACE index of 85. If this forecast pans out, the 2016 season would be around 136%, 27% and 35% more active than 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively.
It must be noted though that there is very low skill in forecasting the AHS (June to November) in April. However, this is the best available forecast for the season, at this time, and can be used as a guide for what is possible. A more skillful forecast will be available around June 1.
End of Atlantic active phase?
Around 1995, the AHS went from a quiet to an active phase. The average annual number of named storms increased from 9 to 15. There is now increasing evidence that we have seen the end of that active phase.
If the active phase has in fact ended, it would mean a reduction in the mean number of tropical cyclones (depressions, tropical storms, hurricanes) across the Atlantic over the next 20 to 30 years. This would translate to an annually reduced probability (chance) of us being impacted by a tropical cyclone between now and around the year 2041.
The x factors
There are at least two climate factors that could cause the hurricane season to be quieter than is currently being predicted. El Nino is ongoing and is virtually synonymous with inactive AHSs. The forecast is for a transition from El Nino to neutral conditions around the middle of the year and possible La Nina around October. However, if El Nino were to persist beyond summer, we would see another quiet hurricane season. On the other hand, La Nina could lead to an active season.
The second potential inhibitor of the 2016 AHS is the transport of cooler-than-normal sea-surface-temperatures (SSTs) into the tropical North Atlantic by ocean currents originating south of Greenland. Reduced SSTs hinder tropical cyclone formation and growth.
Probability of Antigua being hit by a hurricane
According to Klotzbach, the likely best similar years to the upcoming 2016 AHS are 1941, 1973, 1983, 1992, 1998 and 2014. Of these years, we were hit by Hurricane Georges and Tropical Storm Bonnie in 1998 and Tropical Storm Christine in 1973. Thus, based ONLY on similar years, the probability of Antigua being hit this year by one or more named storms is around 39%, while the probability of one or more hurricanes is around 15%.
In general, the probability of Antigua being hit by one or more named storms annually appears to vary according to the phase of the Atlantic. During the quiet phase of 1962 to 1994, the probability of one or more named storms was around 26%, while the probability of one or more hurricanes was around 14%. Meanwhile, for the active phase of 1995 to present, the probability of one or more named storms increased to around 55%, while the probability of one or more hurricanes is around 35%.
Based on the climatological period of 1981-2010, the probability of being hit by one or more named storms is around 41%, while the probability of one or more hurricanes is around 28%.
2015 hurricane season and lessons learnt
The 2015 AHS was quiet; it produced 11 named storms, 4 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. The ACE index total was 63, the fourth lowest since 1995. Notwithstanding it being a quiet year, Antigua was affected by Tropical Storms Danny and Erika. Damage was minor; however, closure of the country for around 24-hours, due to threat from Erika, caused an unknown loss of revenue.
Erika serves as a perfect reminder of the fact that flooding is a hazard associated with tropical cyclones. The system caused catastrophic flash floods across parts of Dominica, killing dozens of people. I our part of the world, we tend to focus a bit too much on the wind hazard associated with these systems.
Another lesson learnt was that it only takes one named storm to make it an active or miserable hurricane season for us. Thus, quiet season or not, the same hurricane season preparations are required each year.
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