Sneak Peek: Early Hurricane Outlook for 2016

The 2015 hurricane season recently ended with yet another lucky year for the U.S.

Going into the holidays, the fact that no major hurricanes made landfall in the U.S. in 2015 is certainly something to celebrate.

Could the good fortune hold out through 2016? It’s far too soon to tell, but experts have started releasing their early outlooks, so let’s take a quick look at what happened in 2015 along with a sneak peek at what may be around the corner in 2016.

A Mostly Uneventful 2015

While no U.S. state was hit by a hurricane this year, some areas were impacted by tropical storms, including South Carolina and Virginia, which were hit by Tropical Storm Ana in May. In June Tropical Storm Bill also impacted several states, hitting Texas and Oklahoma the hardest. In total, there were 11 named storms and four hurricanes in 2015, which made for a quiet year. The biggest (and ongoing) story for the year, has been the development of the strong El Niño pattern, which will continue to impact weather well into the New Year. 

What Might be in the Cards for Next Year? 

Each year in December, the Tropical Meteorology Project releases an early qualitative discussion about factors that could shape the upcoming year’s hurricane activity. In 2016, the Tropical Meteorology Project is projecting a 35 percent chance that there could be up to 11 hurricanes (with up to five being major events), a 25 percent chance there could be up to eight hurricanes (with up to three being major events), a 20 percent chance that there could be up to five hurricanes (with up to two major events), and a 20 percent chance that there will only be two to three hurricanes (with up to one major event). This year’s report notes that whatever happens with the El Niño weather pattern could have an important influence on the hurricane season and that most models are predicting that the pattern will dissipate before the season starts. (The worst case scenario of 11 hurricanes is based on a combination of above average Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO) or Atlantic thermohaline circulation (THC) and no lingering El Niño effects).

A Quest for More Accurate Predictions

Given all of the atmospheric and oceanic variables that must be taken into consideration, hurricane and tropical storm forecasting is a complex undertaking, to say the least. But anything that can be done to improve accuracy and reliability is important for helping communities and businesses prepare for dangerous events. That’s why forecasters are constantly looking for ways to improve their methodologies and tools to help improve accuracy. This year, the Tropical Meteorology Project continued to evolve its techniques using insights gained from more than three decades of forecasting. Going into the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the Joint Hurricane Testbed (JHT) is also funding eight projects that could help improve analysis and predictions.

While it’s great that forecasters are looking for ways to make hurricane forecasting increasingly accurate, it’s also important that communities and businesses never get complacent about disaster planning.

Be sure to keep an eye out for our more in-depth look at the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season forecasts, which comes out in January.