Colorado State University releases its 2020 hurricane season forecast. If it holds true, it will be the fifth straight year of above-average activity.
Florida may be facing a fifth consecutive active hurricane season if a leading forecast released Thursday holds true.
Colorado State University’s early-season prediction is calling for 16 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.
A normal season, which runs between June 1 and Nov. 30, has 12 named storms, including six hurricanes and four major hurricanes.
Phil Klotzbach, lead writer of the forecast, said there was discussion about not releasing the report this year considering the coronavirus crisis.
"We toyed with not doing one, or making it very, very quiet, but it’s still important knowing hurricane season is coming," Klotzbach said. "Hopefully by the time the season ramps up, this pandemic will be a lot less of an issue."
Klotzbach said the forecast was based on the lack of an El Niño and unusually warm waters in the deep tropics.
"At this point we have at least average confidence in the forecast," Klotzbach said. "Certainly in April, you will never be super confident."
Seasonal #hurricane forecast from @ColoradoStateU calls for above-average season: 16 named storms, 8 hurricanes & 4 major (Cat 3+) hurricanes. Reasons for above-average forecast include anticipated lack of #ElNino and warmer than normal tropical Atlantic.https://t.co/jZGKiBmkic pic.twitter.com/sX5C21JxvX— Philip Klotzbach (@philklotzbach) April 2, 2020
AccuWeather, which released its forecast last month, also is expecting an above average season.
AccuWeather lead hurricane forecaster Dan Kottlowski said much of his forecast was also based an absentee El Niño and the possibility a La Niña could form in the early fall.
El Niño acts to crush hurricanes while La Niña is more accommodating to their formation.
"If we go into a solid La Niña, that’s where we get into some problems," Kottlowski said.
CSU’s forecast also considers the probabilities of where hurricanes will make landfall based on varying climate conditions and strikes during the 20th century.
For this year, there is a 69 percent probability that a major hurricane will strike the U.S. That’s above the average of 52 percent.
There is also a 45 percent probability that Florida and the east coast could get hit by a major hurricane. The average is 31 percent.
If the forecasts for a more active season verify, it will be the fifth consecutive above-normal year for hurricanes.
The last strong El Niño was from 2015 into early 2016. Since then, an overactive Atlantic has spawned six Category 5 cyclones: Matthew (2016), Irma and Maria (2017), Michael (2018), and Dorian and Lorenzo (2019).
While there is no doubting 2017’s hyper-active season was above normal, Klotzbach said 2018 and 2019 came with quantity caveats.
Last year had 18 named storms, but included many short-lived systems, while 2018 was marked by high latitude cyclones that spun in the open Atlantic.
"You get periods where you can have several active seasons, but usually you get an El Nino knocking down some activity," Klotzbach said. "We haven’t had a good El Nino since 2015"
At least 20 research groups, private companies and universities churn out annual hurricane forecasts, including the University of Arizona, The Weather Company and Pennsylvania State University's Earth System Science Center.
The federal forecast from the Climate Prediction Center will be released near the end of May.
"In recent years, water temperatures have been so warm, that even neutral years have been busy," said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and writer for Weather Underground in March. "It’s too early to make a confident forecast of how the upcoming hurricane season will evolve, but the tea leaves now on the table suggest that 2020 could be the Atlantic’s fifth season in a row with above average activity."
CSU's is a much-anticipated report because it is one of the earlier ones issued each year and is based on research from seasonal forecast pioneer William Gray, who died in 2016 at age 86.
Still, April forecasts are notably fallible, as the atmosphere is still adjusting to seasonal changes.
In 2019, CSU forecast a slightly below average hurricane season with El Nino predicted to persist through the summer. But the hurricane-crushing climate pattern called it quits in August, and the season ended with 18 named storms, including six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
It was the first time since 2012's Hurricane Sandy that a season spawned an "S" storm.
In 2017, CSU’s April forecast also called for a below-average hurricane season.
The season ended Nov. 30 with 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and six major hurricanes. Three Category 4 hurricanes crashed into the U.S.: Harvey, Irma and Maria. Harvey was the first major hurricane to hit the continental U.S. since 2005's Hurricane Wilma.
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.