Despite its early start, the 2014 hurricane season is on course to remain below normal as it hits the halfway point Wednesday.
“Certainly everything’s pointing to a below normal season still, but that doesn’t mean the season’s over,” said said Gerry Bell, lead hurricane forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
So far, four tropical storms have formed, with three becoming hurricanes. Arthur, which left the gate early in July, remains the only storm to make U.S. landfall in North Carolina. For the season that runs through November, Bell predicted seven to 12 storms, with three to six strengthening into hurricanes and up to two becoming major storms.
Already, the season has produced hurricanes Bertha and Cristobal, along with Arthur. Bertha grew to a hurricane over the Bahamas before zipping north while Cristobal triggered flooding in Puerto Rico and Haiti, where three people died. Dolly, the most recent storm, became a tropical storm then fizzled out over eastern Mexico.
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In August, forecasters revised prediction to lower the number of storms expected. While El Niño weather conditions forecast for the Pacific — which typically slow the season — never formed, forecasters found record winds in the upper atmosphere were keeping storms weak. The winds help cap storms so they can’t grow. Forecasters also found storms reined in by lower water temperatures in tropical Atlantic waters, along with a mild monsoon season off the coast of West Africa.
On Tuesday, Bell said those conditions remained in place. While the worst storms historically form in September and October, he said forecasters still expect the number of storms to remain low. But he warned the number is not what worries forecasters. It’s the strength.
“We’re still in the hurricane season so people need to remain prepared because it only takes one storm,” he said.
Since 1981, an average hurricane season has produced 12 named storms, with six hurricanes and three major storms. Florida, which has been hit more than any other state, has been struck by just one major storm in the last eight years.