Hurricanes: Early start?

A scene from The Garden State Parkway as vacationers left the New Jersey shore ahead of Hurricane Irene last August. (File Photo: Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)

The numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes should be just about average this season, according to Accu-Weather, but some signs point to the potential for early activity.

In releasing its forecast this morning, the commercial service in State College, Pa., says it expects a total of 12 named storms, those with winds of at least 39 m.p.h., to form in the Atlantic Basin from June 1 to Nov. 30.

Of those, it looks for five to grow into hurricanes, with winds of at least 74 m.p.h., and two them would become "major," with peak winds of 111 m.p.h. or higher.

Those numbers are quite close to the averages -- 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and two majors -- for the basin, which includes the Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico.

That's subtly friskier than the outlook posted earlier by the Colorado State University team of William Gray and Philip Klotzbach.

As we posted earlier, they called for 10 tropical storms, four hurricanes, and two majors.

At least two factors would favor early-season development, said Accu-Weather's Jack Boston.

First of all, surface waters in the tropical Pacific remain cooler than normal as they continue in the La Nina state. La Nina suppresses upper-air winds that can shear off developing storms in the Atlantic Basin.

Secondly, Gulf waters remain quite warm, making them ripe for the "homegrown" storms that tend to pop up in in the Gulf and western Atlantic in June and July.

Occasionally, as in the case with Allison in 2001, those storms hold together to become dangerous inland flood producers.

“We’re probably going to see a few storms in June and July,” said Boston. "The homegrowns, I think, we're going to have to watch for."

What happens later in the season will depend very much on the state of the tropical Pacific.

If it flips into the warming stage, El Nino, that could be fabulous news for the East Coast, especially Florida.

Unlike La Nina, El Nino is a powerful producer of those shearing winds. Right now, however, the future state of the Pacific remains uncertain.

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