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Colorado State University hurricane researchers are predicting a slightly below-average Atlantic hurricane season in 2023, mainly due to the expected development of El Niño. Eastern and central tropical and subtropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures are much warmer than normal, while Caribbean sea surface temperatures are near their long-term averages.

The tropical Pacific currently has neutral El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions, that is, water temperatures are near normal in the eastern and central tropical Pacific. Current large-scale conditions and forecasts indicate that a transition to El Niño is relatively likely in the next several months. However, there is considerable uncertainty as to how strong El Niño would be if it does develop. El Niño tends to increase upper-level westerly winds across the Caribbean into the tropical Atlantic. The increased upper-level winds result in vertical wind shear which can tear apart hurricanes as they try to form.

When waters in the eastern and central tropical and subtropical Atlantic are warmer than normal, this tends to force a weaker subtropical high and associated weaker winds blowing across the tropical Atlantic. These conditions lead to warmer waters in the tropical Atlantic for the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. The anomalously warm eastern and central tropical and subtropical Atlantic favor an above-normal season.

Given the conflicting signals between a potentially robust El Niño and an anomalously warm tropical and subtropical Atlantic, the team stresses that there is more uncertainty than normal with this outlook.

The CSU Tropical Meteorology Project team is predicting 13 named storms during the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30. Of those, researchers expect six to become hurricanes and two to reach major hurricane strength (Saffir/Simpson category 3-4-5) with sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater.

The team bases its forecasts on a statistical model, as well as four models that use a combination of statistical information and model output from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, the UK Met Office, the Japan Meteorological Agency, and the Centro Euro-Mediterraneo sui Cambiamenti Climatici. These models use 25–40 years of historical hurricane seasons and evaluate conditions including: Atlantic sea surface temperatures, sea level pressures, vertical wind shear levels (the change in wind direction and speed with height in the atmosphere), El Niño (warming of waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific), and other factors.

So far, the 2023 hurricane season is exhibiting characteristics similar to 1969, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2015.

“Our analog seasons exhibited a wide range of outcomes, from below-normal seasons to hyperactive seasons,” said Phil Klotzbach, research scientist in the CSU Department of Atmospheric Science and lead author of the report. “This highlights the large uncertainty that exists with this outlook.”

The team predicts that 2023 hurricane activity will be about 80 percent of the average season from 1991–2020. By comparison, 2022’s hurricane activity was about 75 percent of the average season.

In addition to the various hurricane metrics that CSU has forecast for many years, the forecast team is introducing a new metric this year. This metric is Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) occurring west of 60°W. ACE is an integrated metric accounting for storm frequency, intensity and duration. ACE generated west of 60°W correlates better with landfalling storms in the Atlantic basin than basinwide ACE. Generally, a slightly lower percentage of basinwide ACE occurs west of 60°W in El Niño years, and since the team favors El Niño as the most likely outcome in 2023, the percentage of basinwide ACE occurring west of 60°W is slightly lower this year.

The CSU team will issue forecast updates on June 1, July 6 and August. 3.

2023 landfalling probability

The report also includes the probability of major hurricanes making landfall:

  • 44 percent for the entire US coastline (average from 1880-2020 is 43 percent)
  • 22 percent for the US East Coast including the Florida peninsula (average from 1880-2020 is 21 percent)
  • 28 percent for the Gulf Coast from the Florida panhandle westward to Brownsville (average from 1880-2020 is 27 percent)
  • 49 percent for the Caribbean (average from 1880-2020 is 47 percent).

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