It’s time for residents along the southeastern coasts of the US to make sure their storm plans are put into action as the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season kicks off on Thursday.
Forecasters are predicting a “near-normal” season, but Mike Brennan, the new director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, stressed at a press conference on Wednesday that there’s really nothing normal when it comes to hurricanes.
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“A normal season may sound good compared to some of the hurricane seasons in recent years,” he said. “But there’s nothing good about an almost normal hurricane season in terms of activity.”
WILL THE 2023 ATLANTIC HURRICASE SEASON BE BUSY?
Uncertainty is key, Brennan said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in late May predicted a 40% chance that 2023 will be a near-normal hurricane season, a 30% chance of an above-average season with more storms than usual, and a 30% chance of a non-normal season, that has less.
“So we expect a busy season with 12 to 17 named storms,” Brennan said, adding that five to nine of those storms could become hurricanes, with one to four developing into major hurricanes.
“It only takes one storm to hit your area for it to be a busy season for you,” he said.
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WHAT’S NEW THIS SEASON?
This year, the hurricane center is rolling out a new storm surge model that Brennan says “helps push real-time storm surge forecast up to 72 hours ahead of the storm” in hopes of getting life-saving information for emergency managers regarding evacuation orders.
In addition, the tropical weather outlook has been extended from five days to seven days, giving residents “an additional warning” to make decisions about whether or not to evacuate ahead of a storm, Brennan said.
WHAT IS EL NINO? HOW WILL IT AFFECT THE 2023 SEASON?
El Nino is a natural temporary warming of the Pacific Ocean that occurs every few years, changing weather patterns worldwide.
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In general, the Atlantic Ocean is calmer and has fewer storms during El Nino years. That’s because El Nino’s warmer waters allow warmer air over the Pacific Ocean to reach higher into the atmosphere and affect wind shear that could prevent storms.
Brennan noted that there are other factors contributing to the uncertainty of El Nino’s effects, such as very warm sea surface temperatures, weaker easterly low-level currents and a more active African monsoon season.
“So these forces will sort of battle it out over the course of this hurricane season,” Brennan said. “We don’t know how his season will go.”
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT OFFICE?
FEMA director Deanne Criswell said her agency is working to protect residents in hurricane zones by giving them the “critical information they need” and making it easier for people to request help.
She said summer is not only the start of hurricane season, but also the start of wildfire season.
“So we’re in the summer season of severe weather, but I think as many of you know, it’s not just a summer season of severe weather anymore,” she said, noting that weather-related events happen all year round.
WHY DO HURRICANES HAVE NAMES? WHEN ARE THEY RETIRED?
Hurricanes are named primarily to avoid 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 changing list of Atlantic hurricane season names every six years. The list can then be repeated, eliminating names as they are removed from rotation, according to the National Hurricane Center website.
The 2023 hurricane names are: Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harold, Idalia, Jose, Katia, Lee, Margot, Nigel, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince, and Whitney.
Hurricane names are routinely retired if a storm was so deadly or caused so much destruction that using the name again would be inappropriate. However, it’s not for the National Hurricane Center to retire a name. That practice is left to an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization, which chooses another name to replace the retiree.
The most recent names to be retired are Ian, which hit southwestern Florida in September 2022 as a Category 5 hurricane with fierce winds and a storm surge of up to 13 feet. Ian killed more than 156 people in the US, the vast majority in Florida, according to a comprehensive National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report on the hurricane.
Other retired names include Katrina, Harvey, Charley, Wilma, Matthew, Michael, and Irma.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WORST HURRICANES TO HIT THE UNITED STATES?
In August 1992, powerful Hurricane Andrew struck south of Miami, crossing Florida and making a second landfall in Louisiana. For years, it was the costliest and most damaging hurricane to ever hit the U.S. coast, resulting in about 65 reported deaths and causing more than $27.3 billion in damage at the time. The Category 5 storm destroyed more than 65,000 homes.
Hurricane Katrina, which hit Louisiana as a Category 3 storm in August 2005, remains one of the most destructive hurricanes to hit the United States. Katrina caused about 1,400 deaths and caused catastrophic damage along the Gulf Coast.
Hurricane Harvey hit Louisiana before slamming into 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 U.S. hurricanes on record, with total costs exceeding $160 billion and $125 billion, respectively.