Posted: 11:13 am Thursday, April 10th, 2014
By Eliot Kleinberg
Look for a below-average hurricane season, the soothsayers at Colorado State University said Thursday, in their first crack at predicting 2014.
The team of William Gray and Phil Klotzbach predicts nine named storms, with three becoming hurricanes and one of those major hurricanes, at Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, with top sustained winds of at least 111 mph. The historical average for 1981 to 2010 is 12, 6½, and two.
Thursday’s prediction comes with the same disclaimer as all of them: it should in no way be taken as a planning tool, except to encourage people to prepare as if they will be hit by a storm. Statistically, the effect of a high or low prediction on the odds that a storm will strike you is extremely minimal. And forecasters never predict where, when or whether storms will strike. Again: there have been record-setting seasons have led to no strikes on Florida. And Andrew struck during a year that produced only four hurricanes.
The United States has gone eight years without a landfall, the longest stretch since reliable landfall records began around 1878. The last: ours. Wilma in 2005.
The team said Thursday the tropics are showing characteristics similar to the 1957, 1963, 1965, 1997 and 2002 seasons, all of which had normal or below-normal activity.
“The tropical Atlantic has anomalously cooled over the past several months, and the chances of a moderate to strong El Niño event this summer and fall appear to be quite high,” Klotzbach said.
El Niño, a pattern of warm weather in the eastern Pacific Ocean, can bring stormy weather out west but tends to limit formation of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic
The team also gave a 20 percent chance a storm would strike somewhere on the length of the U.S. East Coast, including the Florida peninsula; the average for the last century is 31 percent.
The team will issue midseason forecast updates on June 2 and July 31.
Last year marked one of the biggest busts in the team’s three decades – and for everyone. Gray and Klotzbach predicted 18 named storms, with nine becoming hurricanes and four of those major hurricanes. The final box score: 14, two and zero.
The season was the quietest since 1995 and marked the first time in 19 years that no major hurricanes formed. And, as per the old Wall Street warning that past results give no guarantee of future performance, 2014′s snoozer followed three straight seasons that were among the busiest on record.
The Colorado State team gave three major factors for last year’s bad call:
Air in the mid-levels in the atmosphere was very dry. Hurricanes are fed when air rises, and more air in mid-levels sank than rose. And there was an “abrupt weakening” of all the factors that have created a multi-decade period, starting in the mid-1990s, of more and greater storms. Also, there was no El Niño.
Nailing it or otherwise, Colorado State will be able to continue making its predictions. At the end of the 2013 season, the team said would have to quit if it didn’t find a benefactor. But in March, emergency restoration and general contractor Interstate Restoration agreed to sponsor the team. The team later got a second sponsor, insurance firm Ironhorse. The two are contributing $32,000.
Reporter Eliot Kleinberg, who’s covered hurricanes for the Post for a quarter century, will report Wednesday and Thursday, April 16 and 17, from the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando. Watch for tweets, blog postings, and web and print stories.