The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday that it expects the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season to be the most active in four years, with a 70 percent chance of seeing 12-17 named storms and 5-8 full hurricanes. NOAA's last published outlook, from May, predicted a slightly smaller number.
“We’ve raised the numbers because some conditions now in place are indicative of a more active hurricane season, such as El Niño ending, weaker vertical wind shear and weaker trade winds over the central tropical Atlantic, and a stronger west African monsoon,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
Dr. Bell added that there were mitigating conditions which should prevent the season from becoming extremely active (like 2005, with 28 named storms and seven hurricanes, including Katrina).
So far, there have been five named storms and two hurricanes this year.
Dr. Bell added that a La Niña event (with cooler ocean surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific) may develop during hurricane season this year, which could increase the probability of Atlantic storms. "Overall, La Niña is slightly favored to develop during August - October 2016, with about a 55-60 percent chance of La Niña during the fall and winter 2016-17," NOAA's Climate Prediction Center wrote, noting that intensity would probably be slight.
If La Niña does return, it will be good news for shipping through the newly expanded Panama Canal. Prolonged drought conditions associated with its inverse pattern, El Niño, forced the Canal Authority to put draft restrictions into place for a brief period early this year due to low water in Gatun Lake, which feeds the locks. La Niña is associated with higher rainfall in Panama, and could help replenish depleted resevoirs.