Top forecasters from Colorado State University predict a quiet 2014 Atlantic hurricane season, suggesting that nine tropical storms will form, but only three will become hurricanes.
The forecast published Thursday follows two consecutive poor forecasts: In 2012, when more than twice as many hurricanes formed as had been predicted, and in 2013, when only two hurricanes formed after a spring prediction of nine.
A typical year, based on weather records dating to 1950, has 12 tropical storms, of which seven become hurricanes. A tropical storm has sustained winds of 39 mph; it becomes a hurricane when its winds reach 74 mph.
The forecast was released by meteorologists Philip Klotzbach and William Gray of Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
Klotzbach said a predicted El Niño is one factor that led to their quiet forecast. El Niño, a climate pattern defined by warmer-than-normal water in the tropical Pacific Ocean, tends to suppress Atlantic hurricanes.
"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. "Historical data indicate fewer storms form in these conditions."
In 1997, during a very strong El Niño, only seven named storms formed, and only three were hurricanes.
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Gray's team was the first organization to issue seasonal hurricane forecasts back in 1984; this is the team's 31st forecast.
This forecast is for the Atlantic basin, which includes the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Klotzbach said that of the three predicted hurricanes, only one should be a major hurricane — category 3, 4 or 5 — with sustained wind speeds of 111 mph or greater.
The Colorado State team's seasonal forecasts are a mixed bag: Since 2000, the team has forecast fewer than the actual number of hurricanes four times, forecast more five times and been almost right — within two hurricanes — five times, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
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Insurance companies, emergency managers and the news media use the forecasts from Colorado State to prepare Americans for the season's likely hurricane threat. The team's annual predictions are intended to provide a best estimate of activity to be experienced during the upcoming season, not an exact measure, according to Colorado State.
For the U.S. coastline, Klotzbach said there is a 35% chance of a major hurricane making landfall in 2014. For the East Coast, including all of Florida, the chance of a major hurricane strike is 20%. The chance along the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to Brownsville, Texas, is 19%.
Although a calm season is predicted overall, Klotzbach cautioned coastal residents to take the proper precautions. "It takes only one landfall event near you to make this an active season," he said.
Colorado State's team will issue another seasonal forecast update on June 2, with additional updates released as the hurricane season progresses.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be issuing its hurricane forecast in May.
The first named storms of the Atlantic hurricane season will be Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly and Edouard.
The eastern Pacific hurricane season starts May 15. Eastern Pacific hurricanes seldom have any impact on the U.S. but can hit the west coast of Mexico. During El Niño seasons, activity in the Eastern Pacific tends to be more active than usual.