What El Niño Could Mean for the 2014 Atlantic Basin Hurricane Season

The Atlantic basin hurricane season officially begins on June 1st, and there is considerable interest amongst the general public, emergency management community and insurance industry alike as to how active the upcoming season is likely to be.

While no one can say with certainty what the future has in store in terms of hurricane activity, the Tropical Meteorology Project (TMP) at Colorado State University recently forecasted a quieter 2014 Atlantic basin hurricane season due to an expected increase of vertical shear-increasing El Niño conditions combined with an anomalously cool tropical Atlantic. This year marks the 31st year of seasonal hurricane prediction for Colorado State University’s TMP.

With a total of 9 named storms (tropical cyclones with winds greater than 39 miles per hour), 3 hurricanes (tropical cyclones with winds greater than 74 miles per hour) and one major hurricane (tropical cyclones with winds greater than 111 miles per hour) predicted, the TMP cautions that complacency could still be your worst enemy:

“All vulnerable coastal residents should make the same hurricane preparations every year, regardless of how active or inactive the seasonal forecast is,” said Phil Klotzbach, an author of the forecast. “It takes only one landfall event near you to make this an active season.”

Dr. Bill Gray, founder of the TMP, noted in the early 1980s that El Niño conditions typically were associated with quieter Atlantic hurricane seasons. This statistical relationship was then explored further, and it was determined that the increased upper-level westerly winds associated with El Niño increased vertical wind shear (the change in wind direction with height) in the Atlantic, thereby tearing apart developing tropical cyclones…hence, why the 2014 hurricane season is predicted to be quieter than normal.

The TMP team predicts that tropical cyclone activity in 2014 will be about 60 percent of the average season. By comparison, 2013 witnessed tropical cyclone activity that was about 40 percent of the average season. While it is impossible to say months in advance when or where storms are going to strike, historically more active seasons have more landfalling storms. The hurricane forecast team's probabilities for a major hurricane making landfall on U.S. soil in 2014 are:

  • Entire U.S. coastline – 35 percent (average for last century is 52 percent)
  • U.S. East Coast Including Peninsula Florida – 20 percent (average for last century is 31 percent)
  • Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle westward to Brownsville – 19 percent (average for last century is 30 percent)
  • Caribbean – 28 percent (average for last century is 42 percent)

For additional landfall probability information at various spatial scales including state and county level, please check the Landfall Probability Website at: http://www.e-transit.org/hurricane.

Please note that the team's annual predictions are intended to provide a best estimate of activity to be experienced during the upcoming season, not an exact measure. The team will issue forecast updates again on June 2 and July 31. To access the full seasonal forecast report, as well as post-season verifications, please visit TMP's website at: http://tropical.atmos.colostate.edu