As many as four major hurricanes could form over the Atlantic over the next six months, in what could nonetheless mark the end of a high-activity period that began more than 20 years ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Friday.
The 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, from June 1 through Nov. 30, "will most likely be near-normal," NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center reported .
But that could change.
“It’s difficult to determine whether there will be reinforcing or competing climate influences on tropical storm development,” said Gerry Bell, the prediction center's lead seasonal forecaster. "However, a near-normal prediction for this season suggests we could see more hurricane activity than we’ve seen in the last three years, which were below normal.”
NOAA put the likelihood of a near-normal season at 45%, an above-normal season at 30% and a below-normal one at 25%.
NOAA predicts a 70% likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which four to eight could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher) -- including one to four major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher).
Hurricane Alex unseasonably launched the period over the far eastern Atlantic in January. A low-pressure area between the Bahamas and Bermuda could swell this weekend, it added, the center noted.
During the past three years, "weaker hurricane seasons have been accompanied by a shift toward...cooler Atlantic Ocean temperatures and a weaker West African monsoon," the NOAA reported. "If this shift proves to be more than short-lived, it could usher in a low-activity era for Atlantic hurricanes, and this period may already have begun."
High- and low-activity eras ordinarily last 25 to 40 years.“While seasonal forecasts may vary from year to year — some high, some low — it only takes one storm to significantly disrupt your life,” FEMA Deputy Administrator Joseph Nimmich note. “Preparing for the worst can keep you, your family, and first responders out of harm’s way.
"Take steps today to be prepared: develop a family communications plan, build an emergency supply kit for your home, and make sure you and your family know your evacuation route. These small steps can help save your life when disaster strikes.”