Another busy hurricane season may be on the way, according to an early assessment of climate patterns released Wednesday by a leading center for hurricane research.
A report by Colorado State University's Department of Atmospheric Science says conditions would appear to favor an above-average season, although it is difficult to make firm predictions this early.
Favoring a busier season are the recent warming of the North Atlantic Ocean and the likely absence of El Niño, the periodic warming of the Pacific that tends to suppress the formation of hurricanes, said researcher Philip Klotzbach, who wrote the report.
And this could mean we could see as many storms or more than those seen last season, the busiest in years, which saw 15 hurricanes and tropical storms.
"The most likely scenario at this point is for another above-average season," he said.
But an average season also remains a strong possibility, he said.
The worst-case scenario, given a 20 percent chance, calls for an unusually busy season. This could yield a total energy from tropical storms and hurricanes, known as accumulated cyclone energy, of 170, far above the yearly average of 96.
Such a level of accumulated energy typically involves nine to 11 hurricanes, of which four to five would be Category 3 or above. These storms have wind speeds of at least 111 miles per hour, capable of causing what the National Hurricane Center describes as devastating damage.
This number of hurricanes would far exceed the total seen last season, which produced seven hurricanes, three of them major. This above-average season followed several relatively quiet years, ending Florida's 11-year hurricane-free streak and producing the strongest Atlantic storm since 2007.
Another scenario, given a 40 percent chance, calls for a season with an accumulated cyclone energy of 130, which would typically mean a season of six to eight hurricanes, with two to three reaching major status.
"The top two scenarios typically lead to active Atlantic hurricane seasons with above-average levels of hurricane activity," Klotzbach said.
At the low end, there's a 10 percent chance of conditions favoring a below average season, with two to three hurricanes, of which zero to one major ones.
It remains early, however, with hurricane season starting on June 1. Over the next few months, scientists will monitor several major climate factors.
A reappearance of El Niño, while considered unlikely, would suppress the formation of hurricanes. Although there is currently a weak La Niña, a cooling in the Pacific that favors hurricane formation, that may disappear by hurricane season, a scenario forecast by several models, Klotzbach said.
Another major factor is a the cycle of warming and cooling of the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean. Warm ocean water is the essential fuel for hurricanes
"Over the past few years, the far North Atlantic has generally been colder than normal, which is one of the reasons that we believe some recent Atlantic hurricane seasons have been fairly quiet," Klotzbach said.
But over the past few months, the ocean has warmed, the report states. If this persists, it would be a strong factor favoring a busier season.
Originally written and published for Sun Sentinel