Researchers again boosted the number of storms the Atlantic may produce before the hurricane season ends as a missing Pacific El Nino and warm waters present favorable storm conditions.
As many as 16 named storms may form in the Atlantic before the hurricane season ends Nov. 30, Colorado State University forecasters said in a report Friday, each with the potential to disrupt agriculture and energy markets. Of those, eight could become hurricanes and three major systems with winds of 111 miles (179 kilometers) per hour or more.
Agriculture in Florida, the world’s largest producer of orange juice behind Brazil, is vulnerable, while an estimated $28.3 trillion worth of homes, businesses and infrastructure are at risk in 18 Atlantic states, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Oil and natural gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico are also exposed.
Overall, “conditions are more conducive than not for a more active season,” Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the report, said by telephone. “I think the biggest story this year is that we are not going to have El Nino.”
Without an El Nino in the Pacific, wind shear across the Atlantic that can tear apart tropical storms and hurricanes won’t be as severe, Klotzbach said. As a result, storms fueled by abnormally warm water in the Atlantic may have more time to develop and strengthen.
The forecast for storm activity has inched up from 11 in April, 14 in June and 15 last month, mainly because an El Nino that can dampen Atlantic systems has failed to emerge in the Pacific. The basin produces 12 named storms in an average season, with the most powerful ones usually forming between Aug. 20 and the start of October.
The potential for more storms translates into a 62 percent chance of a hit along the Atlantic coastline, higher than the 20th century average of 52 percent, Klotzbach said.
In June, relatively weak Tropical Storm Cindy managed to shut down 17 percent of Gulf of Mexico oil output and forced evacuations of rigs and production platforms. The rise of onshore fracking for gas has lowered Gulf of Mexico output to 4.1 percent of total U.S. production this year, down from 14 percent about a decade ago, Energy Information Administration data show.
“I think we care more about the remnants of tropical storms cooling down the Texas appetite for natural gas, rather than the storm impact on supply,” said Teri Viswanath, managing director for natural gas at PIRA Energy Group in New York.
The Atlantic has produced five storms so far this season, a threshold that typically isn’t crossed until Aug. 31, according to the National Hurricane Center. The first hurricane, which hasn’t happened yet, usually occurs by Aug. 10.
Last August’s prediction for 15 storms hit the actual number on the head. In 2015, Colorado State predicted eight storms with 11 ultimately forming.