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Forecasters predict a ‘near normal’ hurricane season, but urge communities to prepare

This satellite image taken at 3:06 p.m. EDT and provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Ian making landfall in southwest Florida near Cayo Costa, Fla., on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, as a catastrophic Category 4 storm,
This satellite image taken at 3:06 p.m. EDT and provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Ian making landfall in southwest Florida near Cayo Costa, Fla., on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, as a catastrophic Category 4 storm,

Government forecasters are predicting a “near normal” Atlantic hurricane season this year.

The season stretches June 1 to November 30.

“We are prepared to help communities through the upcoming hurricane season with reliable forecasts, warnings, and decision support services,” Richard Spinrad, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told reporters during a press briefing Thursday. “The question is, are you ready?”

The forecast comes after a historically long streak of abnormally active Atlantic hurricane seasons the past several years. Human-caused climate change enhances the intensity of hurricanes and their ability to dump punishing amounts of rain, but is not thought to increase the frequency of storms.

This year, El Niño is predicted to develop and will likely have a tempering effect on the number of named storms, bringing winds that can weaken or disrupt hurricane formation. Meanwhile, warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures will likely encourage hurricanes to form, NOAA officials said.

“It’s definitely kind of a rare set up for this year,” said Matthew Rosencrans of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

NOAA predicts 12 to 17 named storms this season, with five to nine of them hurricanes. Between one and four of these will likely be major hurricanes, according to the forecast.

The projection contains a fair amount of uncertainty. NOAA says there’s a 40% chance of a near normal season, a 30% chance of an above normal season, and a 30% chance of a below normal season.

“What they’re doing is hedging their bets, saying it’s going to be near-normal,” said Gregory Jenkins, professor of meteorology and atmospheric science at Penn State University.

There are many factors that go into storm formation and intensification, Jenkins said. The outlook for the season will become more clear in the coming months.

“You’ve got to kind of stay tuned and just see what the factors look like in August,” Jenkins said. “It could go either way.”

But even a low number of named storms could cause destruction.

“It only takes one storm to devastate a community,” Spinrad said. “If one of those named storms is hitting your home, your community, it’s very serious.”

When the Philadelphia area is not hit directly by a hurricane, it can still experience severe weather from a storm’s remnants.

In 2021, the remnants of Hurricane Ida brought historic flooding and at least seven tornadoes to the Philly region, killing several people and damaging thousands of homes. The year before, flooding from Tropical Storm Isaias inundated homes in Philly’s low-lying Eastwick neighborhood— and more than two years later, residents are still recovering.

Officials say it’s best to be prepared.

“It’s absolutely crucial that all Americans living in the potential paths of these storms, even well inland of the coasts, follow NOAA’s guidance for preparation,” Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves said. “Determine your risk, develop an evacuation plan, and assemble the disaster supplies that you may need if a severe storm strikes.”

In Philly, you can sign up for emergency alerts from the city that go to your phone or email address. Philadelphians who have lived through flooding recommend preparing by considering flood insurance, elevating valuables, and retrofitting your home with water-resistant materials.

With storms becoming wetter due to climate change and infrastructure “not keeping up,” awareness of weather-related hazards is becoming more important, Jenkins said.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell agrees.

“The risks of these storms are different than the risks that [communities] faced ten years ago,” Criswell said. “We have to be able to get that message out to people.”

Sophia Schmidt | WHYY