Monday’s Atlantic water vapor satellite image shows lots of dry air. (Credit: NOAA)
T-minus two days and counting to the official end of the 2016 hurricane season, and it looks like nature has already pulled the plug on the tropics.
Satellite water vapor images (above) look wintry, with screaming wind shear values as high as 70 knots over much of the basin.
So we’re coming to the end of what has been termed “truly the year-long” hurricane season of 2016, as Marshall Shepherd at Forbes put it, since Hurricane Alex formed in January (and hit the Azores) and Hurricane Otto spun up in late November and plowed into Central America.
This year’s 15 named storms puts it at the high end of the NOAA forecast, which was for 10-16 named storms, four-to-eight hurricanes (there were seven) and one-to-four majors (there have been three).
The total slightly exceeded Colorado State University’s June 1 prediction of 14 named storms, six hurricanes and two majors. Once again, the United Kingdom’s Tropical Storm Risk was pretty much on target with its July 5 forecast for 16 named storms, eight hurricanes and three majors.
The strongest of the year was Hurricane Matthew, which topped out as a Category 5 with 160 mph winds, and came close enough to Florida to strip the store shelves bare of everything from canned soup at Publix to plywood at Home Depot. It hit South Carolina as a Category 1.
Deaths from storms during the season were estimated at 1,765, making it the deadliest season since 2005, and property damage exceeded $11 billion.
What’s the early outlook for the 2017 season? Colorado State and Tropical Storm Risk will issue outlooks at the beginning of December, but these can usually be taken with a grain of salt.
Weak La Niña conditions are expected to be in place through the winter months, and this cool tropical Pacific phenomenon is generally conducive to tropical development in the Atlantic. However, according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, “the consensus favors La Niña to be short-lived, with ENSO-neutral favored beyond December-January-February.”
The last time we came out of a La Niña and went into neutral conditions during the hurricane season was in 2012, and that was a very active season with 19 named storms and 10 hurricanes. When we transitioned from La Niña to neutral in 2008, there were 16 named storms, including the very potent Hurricane Ike.
That was also the year of the volatile Tropical Storm Fay, which zigzagged around the Florida peninsula so much that it made four landfalls in the state — and caused major flooding on the Treasure Coast.
Every hurricane season seems to leave its own signature. If there is favorable wind shear — and water temperatures remain above average, as they have for the past several seasons — we could be in for another active year.