Florida can breathe a collective sigh of relief this year, as forecasts for the 2023 hurricane season suggest a possible period of relative calm. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced its official predictions Thursday, hinting at a “near normal” hurricane season, an anomaly in recent years.
Forecast 2023: the history of numbers
In a news conference, NOAA provided their quantified outlook for the upcoming hurricane season: They anticipate 12 to 17 named storms, of which five to nine could become full-blown hurricanes. Additionally, one to four storms can intensify into powerful Category 3 storms or stronger, with Category 5 being the apex.
NOAA statistical models suggest a 40% chance for a near-normal season and a 30% chance for a below- or above-average season.
Matthew Rosencrans, the lead forecaster for NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, explained that his prediction stems from a unique combination of factors, some indicative of a calmer season and others typically related to more tumultuous hurricane seasons.
“This year’s configuration is unusual, so our probabilities are not 60 or 70%, which reflects the level of uncertainty,” Rosencrans noted, conveying the scientific complexity of this year’s predictions.
Looking Back: The 2022 Hurricane Season
Last year, the storm count was slightly above the norm with 14 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and two major hurricanes. Most notably, the record-breaking Category 5 Hurricane Ian devastated the southwestern coast of Florida in September, causing nearly 100 deaths and destroying countless homes. Hurricane Ian claimed its place in Florida history as the costliest storm to date.
In November, Hurricane Nicole, a Category 1 hurricane, struck the northeast coast of Florida. The state dealt with extensive flooding and destructive storm surge, which severely damaged waterfront properties.
The Balancing Act: El Niño vs. A warming Atlantic
NOAA’s prediction relies heavily on the manifestation of an atmospheric event known as El Niño, which warms Pacific Ocean waters and affects Atlantic winds, generally signaling a calmer hurricane season.
However, this relative Atlantic serenity does not come without its side effects. El Niño is often accompanied by colder, wetter winters in parts of the US, which can lead to more severe snowstorms and flooding.
While an official El Niño announcement from NOAA is pending, their latest report assigns a 90% chance of an onset of spring.
Previous seasonal predictions largely factored in a potential El Niño, suggesting a calmer season. However, recent changes in the Atlantic Ocean, including higher temperatures and favorable winds, have pushed NOAA’s forecast to a “normal” season.
Rosencrans clarified: “The interaction between El Niño and favorable conditions across the Atlantic (temperature and forecast shear patterns) determine the outcome. El Niño represents approximately 33 to 38% of the variations, so it is not the only factor.”
Hurricane Season 2023: Be Prepared
The official hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, typically peaking in August and September. However, storms have formed before in recent seasons, and 2023 appears to be following that trend.
The National Hurricane Center reported a subtropical storm off the northeast coast of the United States in mid-January. The next named storm to reach tropical depression status will be Tropical Depression Two or, if it intensifies into a Tropical Storm or Hurricane, Arlene.
NOAA’s forecast stands out as being more assertive than several other early-season predictions, most of which suggested a below-average season. The agency plans to update its forecast in August, just before the height of the hurricane season.
“Preparation starts now and the time to act is today,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell urged during the NOAA press conference.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava echoed these sentiments at a hurricane season news conference Thursday. She encouraged residents to use the upcoming Memorial Day weekend to stock up on their hurricane kits and come up with a storm action plan.
“As history has shown us, even a single storm can cause catastrophic damage. We must do everything in our power to stay safe and prepared,” she emphasized.
Levine Cava urged all residents, especially those new to the area, to stay on top of storm updates through Miami-Dade’s website and social media channels, the 311 hotline, or by downloading the app. Ready Miami-Dade.
“Let’s approach this hurricane season with wisdom and preparation. Stay safe everyone,” he concluded.