(The Hill) – Record high ocean temperatures may lead to more hurricanes than previously expected this season, according to national weather forecasters.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has upped its prediction for the hurricane season from average to an “above-normal level of activity” for this year, the group announced Thursday.
Experts predicted about a 60 percent chance that hurricane season has more activity than normal this year, a rise from a 40 percent chance back in May.
The group expects between 14 and 21 named storms, with seven to 11 of them being hurricanes. Between two and five of those storms are expected to be major hurricanes with winds stronger than 111 mph, the forecast says.
Forecasters previously predicted a quieter season because the Pacific Ocean is in El Niño — shearing winds from the west that would usually weaken storms before they get serious enough to form hurricanes.
However, record ocean temperatures strengthen storms and may be enough to counteract the usual dampening force of an El Niño climate, the forecasters believe.
High ocean temperatures — nearing 100 degrees off the coast of South Florida — have concerned scientists for their larger climate implications. Water temperatures are about 5 degrees higher in Florida and across the Gulf of Mexico this year than average.
The NOAA predictions are in line with what other hurricane predictors have said they expect for the upcoming season. Colorado State University researchers raised their predictions to an above-average season last month, calling for seven hurricanes. They also cited warm ocean temperatures overwhelming the usual El Niño forces.
Five significant storms have already formed in the Atlantic this year, including one hurricane.
In the Pacific Ocean — which is not covered by these forecasts — Tropical Storm Calvin ravaged Hawaii last month, causing widespread flooding and water damage. That storm was previously a hurricane but weakened as it approached the islands.