NOAA releases above-normal hurricane forecast; agency faces 16 percent budget cut

NOAA hurricane outlook

The lack of an El Niño could produce more favorable wind shear for tropical development in the Atlantic. (Credit: NOAA)

NOAA predicted an above average 2017 Atlantic hurricane season on Thursday, calling for 11-17 named storms, five to nine hurricanes and two to four major hurricanes.

The numbers include Tropical Storm Arlene, which formed in April.

“The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Niño, near- or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region,” said Gerry Bell, lead hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Officials also announced upgrades to two forecast models during a news conference in College Park, Maryland. Those include improvements to the Hurricane Weather Research Forecast model (HWRF) and replacement of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) with a new model called HMON — Hurricanes in a Multi-Scale Ocean-Coupled Non-Hydrostatic.

NOAA says HMON will have “superior track and intensity forecast skill.”

Forecasts have become a little trickier this year since it appears that an El Niño that had been predicted for late summer and fall probably won’t materialize. Tropical Pacific water temperatures could be warmer than the plus-0.5 degree threshold in the Central Pacific, but that may not be enough to crank up wind shear in the tropical Atlantic as the hurricane season enters its peak in August through October.

The Weather Channel bumped up its forecast from 12 named storms in April to 14 last week.

Colorado State University is calling for 11 named storms, but that forecast may also be increased when hurricane researcher Philip Klotzbach comes out with his update June 3.

Tropical Storm Risk in the United Kingdom also called for 11 named storms in its April forecast.

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HIT & MISS: Rainfall from Wednesday-Thursday’s frontal system varied wildly around the state. Unofficial totals through Thursday morning, as per the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network and other observers:

Daytona Beach, 0.06 of an inch; Tampa, 0.16; Palm Beach Shores, 0.33; Orlando, 0.42; Sarasota, 0.46; Key West, 0.49; Sanibel Island, 0.72; Cudjoe Key, 0.77; Boca Raton, 1.28; Gainesville, 2.42; Pompano Beach, 4.08; Boynton Beach, 4.63 inches. .

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COLD SHOULDER: NOAA’s budget would be cut by 16 percent under the proposal released Tuesday by the Trump Administration.

Folks in the forecasting business — and not just those at the National Weather Service — are alarmed and worry that the agency will fall further behind other nations in the race to sharpen forecasting skills.

In particular, critics are concerned that NOAA’s primary forecasting model, the GFS, is losing ground to the European Model (ECMWF), which has often out-performed the GFS especially when it comes to predicting the path of hurricanes.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that ex-NOAA CEO David Titley believes the budget would “ensure that NOAA-NWS becomes a second- or third-tier weather forecasting enterprise….”

Political analysts, including those at The New York Times, contend that the Trump budget is dead on arrival, and it’s doubtful that the administration’s blue print for federal agencies like NOAA will be followed to the letter.

Nevertheless, it certainly suggests that the weather forecasting business is not on the brink of a new golden era of innovation.

The administration — and congressional leadership — scoff at climate change, but in fact improvements in weather forecasting should be viewed independently of issues like global warming.

Weather is going to occur regardless of long-term temperature trends. The question is whether it’s worth taxpayer investment to find better ways to improve public safety by more accurately forecasting potentially catastrophic events.

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Author: jnelander

Freelance writer and editor

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