It’s time for residents along the southeastern coasts of the United States to make sure their storm plans are ready as the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season begins Thursday.
Forecasters expect a “near-normal” season, but Mike Brennan, the new director at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, stressed during a news conference Wednesday that there’s really nothing normal when it comes to hurricanes.
“The regular season may look good compared to some of the hurricane seasons of the past few years,” he said. “But there is nothing good about a near-normal hurricane season in terms of activity.”
Will the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season Be Crowded?
Uncertainty is key, Brennan said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projected in late May that a near-normal 2023 chance of hurricanes would be 40%, a 30% chance for an above-average season with more storms than normal, and a 30% chance less than normal. An abnormal season with fewer numbers.
“So we’re anticipating a busy season with 12 to 17 named storms,” Brennan said, adding that five to nine of those storms could become hurricanes, with one in four becoming major hurricanes.
“It only takes one storm affecting your area to make it a busy season for you,” he said.
What’s new this season?
This year, the hurricane center is rolling out a new storm disruption model that Brennan said “helps push the real-time storm surge forecast up to 72 hours before the storm” in hopes of getting life-saving information for emergency managers regarding evacuation orders.
In addition, the tropical weather forecast has been extended from five days to seven days, providing “additional alert” to residents to make decisions about evacuations before a storm strikes, Brennan said.
What is El Niño? How will this affect the 2023 season?
El Niño is a temporary natural phenomenon in the warming of the Pacific Ocean, occurring every few years, that changes weather patterns around the world.
In general, the Atlantic Ocean is calmer and has fewer storms during El Niño years. That’s because warmer El Nino waters cause warm air over the Pacific Ocean to reach higher in the atmosphere and affect wind shear that can prevent storms.
Brennan noted that other factors are adding to the uncertainty about the effects of El Nino, such as very warm sea surface temperatures, weaker low-level easterly flows and a more active African monsoon season.
“So these forces are going to be kind of fighting through this hurricane season,” Brennan said. “We don’t know how his season will end.”
What is the role of FEMA?
FEMA Administrator Dean Creswell said her agency is working to protect residents in hurricane areas by providing them with “the critical information they need” and making it easier for people to come forward to seek help.
Not only does summer bring the start of hurricane season, she said, but it is also the start of wildfire season.
“So we are in the summer season of severe weather events, but I think as many of you know, it is no longer just the summer season of severe weather,” she said, referring to the weather-related events that occur throughout the year.
Why do hurricanes have names? When will they be returned?
Hurricanes are named primarily to eliminate confusion if two or more storm systems occur at the same time.
The United States began using female names for storms in 1953 and began alternating male and female names in 1978.
There is a rotating list of names for the Atlantic hurricane season every six years. The list can then be repeated, with the names deleted if they are retired from the rotation, according to the National Hurricane Center website.
The names of the 2023 hurricane are: Arlene, Britt, Cindy, Dawn, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harold, Idalia, Jose, Katya, Lee, Margot, Nigel, Ophelia, Philip, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince and Whitney.
Hurricane names are routinely dropped if the storm is so deadly or causes so much destruction that using the name again is inappropriate. However, it is not up to the National Hurricane Center to retire the name. This practice is left to the International Committee of the World Meteorological Organization, which selects another name to replace the retired one.
The most recent names to retire include Ian, which struck southwest Florida as a Category 5 hurricane in September 2022 with fierce winds and gusts of up to 15 feet (4 meters). Ian killed more than 156 people in the United States, the vast majority in Florida, according to a comprehensive National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report on the hurricane.
Other retired names include Katrina, Harvey, Charlie, Wilma, Matthew, Michael and Irma.
What are the worst hurricanes to hit the United States?
In August 1992, powerful Hurricane Andrew struck south of Miami, crossed Florida and made its second landfall in Louisiana. For years, it was the costliest and most damaging hurricane to ever hit the coast of the United States, killing about 65 people and causing more than $27.3 billion in damages at the time. The Category 5 storm destroyed more than 65,000 homes.
Hurricane Katrina, which hit the New Orleans area as a Category 5 storm in August 2005, still ranks as one of the most destructive hurricanes to hit the United States. Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,200 people and caused catastrophic damage along the Gulf Coast.
Hurricane Harvey battered Louisiana before hitting Houston as a Category 4 storm in 2017, causing severe flooding. Harvey killed more than 80 people, including 50 in the Houston area.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Katrina and Harvey are listed as the two costliest US hurricanes on record with total costs of over $160 billion and $125 billion, respectively.
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