Interview: Dr. Phil Klotzbach on the upcoming hurricane season
On June 1, hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding areas will commence, signaling the potential for a tropical storm to develop at any time. After last year’s relatively quiet season, with only nine named cyclones, meteorologists are on-guard for increased activity over the upcoming summer and autumn. Hurricane season runs until November 30, and while storms are known to have developed at practically any time of the year, most tend to form within those bounds. The peak of hurricane season is considered to be within the month of September.
In 2009, a weather pattern known as El Niño in the Pacific Ocean and dust from Africa prevented many storms from developing. However, both of these inhibiting factors are relenting, and waters in some parts of the ocean are abnormally warm. As a result, forecasters are concerned that the 2010 season may be significantly more dangerous, comparing it to previous destructive periods, such as 1969, 1998 and 2005. In an exclusive interview, a Wikinews reporter talks with Colorado State University hurricane expert Dr. Phil Klotzbach on the upcoming hurricane season.
Wikinews: Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions. How do you feel this year’s hurricane season will differ from last year’s?
Phil Klotzbach: At this point, we expect this year will be much more active last year. Last year was only characterized by nine named storms, 3 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. Our most recent prediction is that this year will have 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes. El Nino occurred last year, which increased vertical wind shear in the Atlantic, tearing apart many developing tropical cyclones. The El Nino is currently dissipating, and we expect this season to be characterized by cooler waters in the tropical Pacific, which should reduce vertical shear in the Atlantic and make for a more active season. In addition, tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures are currently running at near-record levels. Warmer waters provide more fuel for developing tropical cyclones.
WN: How will the 2010 season compare to seasons like 2005 and 1998, which brought about several catastrophic storms?
PK: At this point, we do not expect that 2010 will have as many storms as occurred in 2005, since 2005 was characterized by extraordinary favorable conditions in the tropical Atlantic. We do not necessarily think that the sea level pressures will be as low in the tropical Atlantic in 2010 as they were in 2005. Also, landfalling storms are impossible to predict months in advance. The paths that storms take are governed a lot more by mid-latitude weather patterns, which are not predictable more than a few days in advance.
WN: Which land areas are at greatest risk over the next several months?
PK: As mentioned before, you really cannot say months in advance which areas are more likely to be hit by hurricanes.
WN: Do you expect an above-average number of hurricane landfalls in addition to a high number of storms?
PK: More active tropical cyclone seasons tend to have more landfalling hurricanes, so yes, I would say that the probability of storm landfalls is also increased this year.
WN: Generally, how accurate are pre-seasons forecasts?
PK: Seasonal forecasts, like day-to-day weather predictions, become more and more accurate as you get closer to the event that you are trying to predict. The error bars on our current forecast (released in early April), based on our forecasts from 1995-2008 is approximately +-2.8 hurricanes. The error bar shrinks considerably by early June, to approximate +- 2.0 hurricanes.
WN: How can residents prepare for hurricane season, and when is the best time to stock up on emergency supplies?
PK: Individuals along the coastline need to prepare by having an emergency preparedness plan in place prior to the start of the hurricane season. That is, now is the time to prepare for hurricane season! A very helpful resource for developing a plan is located here. Then, if a storm does threaten during the hurricane season, the important thing to do is to listen to local emergency management and follow their advice.
WN: Finally, is it likely that tropical cyclone activity in other parts of the world will also be on the rise this year?
PK: We only issue seasonal forecasts for the Atlantic basin. In general, East Pacific activity tends to go down when Atlantic activity goes up. I don’t look much at the Indian and West Pacific Oceans, from a seasonal forecasting perspective, so I cannot say much about what levels of activity can be expected there.
This story originally appeared in Wikinews.