The Atlantic hurricane season is off to yet another early start, but U.S. weather officials said it should be a near normal year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday predicted nine to 15 named storms. Four to eight of the storms will become hurricanes, forecasters said, and two to four of those would become major hurricanes with 111 mph winds or higher.
Hurricane season traditionally kicks off on June 1. But earlier this week, subtropical storm Andrea briefly popped up, marking the fifth straight year a named storm came in May or earlier.
Peak hurricane season, however, begins in early September, so there's still time to create a, CBS News' weather producer David Parkinson said on CBSN Thursday. He said the season gears up in July, but August, September and October tend to be the three main months.
"Create your plan of where to go if a storm comes, because when you're in the middle of a forecast bearing down on you, that is the last time you should be preparing for those things," Parkinson added.
Acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs said a current El Nino, a periodic natural warming of the central Pacific that changes weather worldwide, suppresses hurricane activity in the Atlantic. But other forces, including warmer-than-normal seawater, counter that.
Last year had 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and two major ones,and . Those two big storms hit the U.S. and together directly killed 38 people and caused $49 billion in damages. The Atlantic basin averages 12 named storms a year, with six becoming hurricanes and three becoming major storms.
NOAA said there's a 40% chance of a normal season, with a 30% chance of both stronger and weaker seasons. "That's still a lot of activity," said NOAA forecaster Gerry Bell. "You need to start to prepare for hurricane season now."
Bell said this year's forecast had "competing factors" that balanced out. The El Nino brings wind changes that can keep storms from forming and reduce their strength, but this year's El Nino is weak, Bell said.
One factor pushing the other way is the 20- to 30- year long-term natural cycle of hurricane activity. Since about 1995, the Atlantic has been in the part of the cycle of high-activity, which includes warmer water and west African rainfall, which goose storm activity. Bell said there's no indication of change yet.
Some other non-government forecasters predict a weaker storm season than NOAA, pointing to the El Nino.
Colorado State University, which pioneered hurricane season predictions, is forecasting 13 named storms, five to become hurricanes and two to hit major status. Hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach predicted that overall the Atlantic season will be about three-quarters strong as a normal season.
Klotzbach's team predicted a 48% chance that a storm will hit the U.S. coastline, slightly less than the normal 52% chance. He also said there's a 28% chance of Florida's peninsula being hit and 30% chance the Gulf coast between Texas and the Florida panhandle getting struck. Those are slightly below average.
IBM's Weather Company calls for 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three majors. Accuweather calls for 12 to 14 named storms, five to seven hurricanes and two to four major storms.
2019 Atlantic hurricane season storm names
Tropical storms have been named since 1953. They were originally named by the National Hurricane Center, but are now maintained and updated by the World Meteorological Organization.
Each list of names is used in a six-year rotation, which means this year's list will be used again in 2025. However, if a storm is considered too deadly or damage caused by a storm deemed too costly, the name will no longer be used for reasons of sensitivity. In those cases, a name is replaced during an annual World Meteorological Organization meeting.
The name Imelda will replace Ingrid for 2019, after the hurricane was the first of two storms to hit Mexico in a 24-hour period in September 2013. The second was Hurricane Manuel, that hit Mexico the Pacific side.
2019 hurricane names