BATON ROUGE — The calendar has switched to June, signaling the official commencement of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasters at the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, the Atlantic is expected to experience “near-normal” activity this year.
NOAA’s outlook for the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, spanning from June 1 to November 30, indicates a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, a 30 percent chance of an above-normal season, and a 30 percent chance of a below-normal season.
NOAA forecasts a range of 12 to 17 total named storms (with winds of 39 mph or higher). Of these, 5 to 9 storms could intensify into hurricanes (with winds of 74 mph or higher), including 1 to 4 major hurricanes (category 3, 4, or 5, with winds of 111 mph or higher). NOAA expresses a 70 percent confidence in these estimates.
The upcoming hurricane season is projected to be less active compared to recent years, owing to various factors—some that suppress storm development and others that fuel it.
What is El Nino? How does it affect storms?
After three consecutive hurricane seasons featuring La Niña conditions, NOAA scientists predict a high likelihood of El Niño developing this summer, which has the potential to suppress Atlantic hurricane activity.
El Niño is a periodic natural warming of the Pacific Ocean that occurs every few years, impacting weather patterns globally.
During El Niño years, the Atlantic Ocean tends to be calmer with fewer storms. This is because the warmer waters associated with El Niño cause warmer air over the Pacific to rise higher into the atmosphere, affecting wind shear that could impede storm formation.
Despite El Niño’s potential influence on storm development, NOAA notes that favorable conditions within the tropical Atlantic Basin may counteract its effects. These conditions include the possibility of an above-normal West African monsoon, which generates African easterly waves and contributes to the formation of stronger and longer-lasting Atlantic storms. Additionally, the presence of warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea provides increased energy to fuel storm development.
These factors are part of the longer-term variability in Atlantic atmospheric and oceanic conditions conducive to hurricane development, which have contributed to more active Atlantic hurricane seasons since 1995.
The combination of El Niño and the conditions in the Atlantic Basin introduces variability in how this hurricane season will unfold.
System upgrades should help with more accurate forecasts
For the 2023 season, the hurricane center is introducing a new storm surge model that could aid in predicting storm surge up to 72 hours in advance.
NOAA’s Probabilistic Storm Surge model, which received an upgrade on May 2, enhances storm surge forecasting for the contiguous U.S. and provides new surge, tide, and wave forecasts for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Forecasters can now run the model for two simultaneous storms. Additionally, the upgraded model provides forecasters with the likelihood or probability of various flooding scenarios, including a near worst-case scenario, enabling better preparation for all potential outcomes.
The National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Weather Outlook graphic, which indicates tropical cyclone formation potential, has expanded the forecast range from five to seven days to provide additional lead time for residents to make evacuation decisions.
Hurricane names for 2023
The names assigned to storms for the 2023 hurricane season are: Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harold, Idalia, Jose, Katia, Lee, Margot, Nigel, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince, and Whitney.
There is a rotating list of hurricane names used every six years. Some names are retired if a storm causes significant damage, rendering the reuse of the name inappropriate.
Ida which left mass destruction across south Louisiana was retired in 2021. Gustav, Katrina, Rita and Andrew are among the storms to ravage Louisiana and also have their names retired.