Atlantic could spawn 19 storms as El Nino threat fades

A man shelters under an umbrella as he walks along a pier ahead of Hurricane Franklin in Veracruz, Mexico on Thursday. (Reuters photo)

BOSTON – The Atlantic hurricane season will probably generate an above-average 14 to 19 named storms that can rattle energy and agriculture markets, now that it is almost certain a system-deterring Pacific El Nino will not arrive.

At least 5 to 9 will become hurricanes, with 2 to 5 becoming major systems with winds of 179 kilometres per hour or more, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

Storms are named when their winds reach around 63kph. In May, the agency said 11 to 17 storms would form.

“There is a possibility now that the season will be extremely active,” said Gerry Bell, lead hurricane seasonal forecaster at the US Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. “We are now entering the historical peak months of the season. This three month period is when the bulk of hurricanes occur.

El Nino, marked by a warming in the equatorial Pacific, can have a big influence on Atlantic storms. The phenomenon increases wind shear in the smaller ocean, which can tear apart tropical systems.

The Earth’s most powerful storms can threaten lives, destroy property and move global energy and agricultural markets. An estimated US$28.3 trillion worth of homes, businesses and infrastructure is vulnerable to hurricane strikes in the 18 US Atlantic coastal states, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

Florida, the world’s second largest orange juice producer, behind Brazil, is particularly vulnerable to hurricane strikes. And while dangerous winds can threaten life and property, heavy rains form storms can help crops, as was the case with Tropical Storm Emily last month.

Gulf Drilling

Storms that enter the Gulf of Mexico can have major impacts on oil and natural gas operations. Offshore drilling in the Gulf accounts for about 4.1% of gas production, according to the Energy Information Administration. In June, relatively weak Tropical Storm Cindy managed to shut down 17% of Gulf oil output and forced evacuations of rigs and production platforms.

The tropical Atlantic is about 0.5 to 1.1 Celsius warmer than normal, which can spur on hurricane development, Mr Bell said. Tropical storms and hurricanes draw strength from warm water.

“They aren’t the warmest temperatures on record but they are certainly sufficient,” he said. “These conducive conditions are in place and we expect them to persist.”

While forecasters initially believed an El Nino would form this year, they subsequently lowered the odds. Based on that and other factors, Colorado State University last week increased its seasonal forecast to 16 storms, 8 of which could become hurricanes and three major systems.

Starting around Aug 20, the Atlantic enters its most active phase that lasts about six weeks. The statistical peak of the season is Sept 10.

An average hurricane season produces 12 storms between June 1 and Nov 30 So far this year, the basin has produced 6 systems.

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