It looks like it could be a record-breaking hurricane season this year — or perhaps and hopefully not.
Following an extremely active and deadly 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, agricultural interests from the tip of Texas to the Upper Eastern Seaboard have been waiting with both hopeful anticipation and nervous expectancy for the 2018 hurricane outlook, especially those that suffered the greatest at the hands of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria last year, which resulted in catastrophic and record-breaking damages in the U.S. and a number of islands in Atlantic and Caribbean waters.
While the official release of NOAA's National Hurricane Prediction Center's (HPC) 2018 summer storm outlook will not be released until late in May, there are some early prediction models that have been offered, perhaps one piece of the annual puzzle that paints the overall prediction picture of what may develop in the upcoming Atlantic Basin tropical weather season, which officially gets under way on June 1 each year.
While the science of tropical weather forecasting has developed exponentially in recent years, HPC forecasters warn that far too many factors can rapidly change to render even the best forecasts inaccurate, or at least in need of modification.
Countless billions are spent each year by weather agencies and forecasters around the world to develop new technologies to improve forecast models. While the NOAA and the National Hurricane Prediction Center in Florida is certainly one of the leading agencies charged with tropical weather predictions, they are not the only credible source. European storm models and models developed by leading academic institutions, including the hurricane prediction team at Colorado State University (CSU), are also worthy considering the perplexity of tropical weather science. In the end, many forecast models may vary from those issued by other agencies, and any given one of them could be the one to hit the proverbial nail directly on the head.
In the past, CSU forecasters have demonstrated an uncanny ability to be very accurate in devising storm forecasts.
Other leading forecast agencies and groups include CSU, the NOAA HPC, the University College of London's Tropical Storm Risk team, the European Center for Medium-range Weather Forecasting (considered by many to have one of the best proven track records for predicting tropical weather in the Atlantic basin), Florida State University (part of the NOAA HPC), North Carolina State University, the Weather Company (Weather Channel), Aon Benfield Analytics, Accuweather, and others.
Beyond official hurricane prediction agencies, several groups, organizations, and private-businesses also develop annual models for hurricane season development, including NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory's model (GFDL (American), the U.S. Navy model (NOGAPS), the UQAM Weather Centre model (UKMET), NOAA's HWRF model, the National Weather Service's Environmental Modeling Center, and others.
For governments and industry, including farmers and ranchers, such variances present a conundrum over who and what to believe, especially considering lives and livelihoods largely depend on weather developments, especially in agriculture.
This year — 2018 — the collective forecast for the tropical season by various models will again exaggerate the age-old problem of who and what to believe based upon varying forecasts models.
It should be noted that forecast models are based on a multitude of expected contributing factors to tropical storm predictability, and variances between forecasts from different agencies is not unusual. While a particular model may be more accurate any given year than all the others, that could change in the next or following years, a tribute to the difficulty in predicting the weather. It is important to note that while there may be a host of differing opinions about the annual Atlantic Basin hurricane forecast, it doesn't mean we shouldn't be aware of the many resources and opinions offered each year.
NOAA Hurricane Prediction Center: North America’s standard?
Considered by many, including national, state and local authorities and U.S. industries-at-large, rely on the scientific research and forecast models developed by the NOAA-HPC. Utilizing an impressive staff or forecasters and new forecast technologies, the HPC annual tropical outllook for the Atlantic Basin is considered to be at the top of the list for accuracy.
In 2017, the HPC predicted an "above normal" season, with 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine hurricanes with two to four being major (Categories 3, 4 or 5) hurricanes. When all was said and done and the end of the tropical hurricane season ended on Nov. 30, there were 17 major storms, of which were 10 hurricanes and six major hurricanes.
For the upcoming 2018 Hurricane season, the HPC 2018 forecast will not be released (as usual) until near the end of May. The reason for the late release is because NOAA wants to base their predictions on the latest information, such as ocean water temperatures and other relative and contributing factors including the influence of global weather oscillations like El Niño and La Niña.
But few can blame farmers from wanting to stay on top of the latest news about the upcoming hurricane season, especially those living in areas that could be most affected by them. That’s why the early prediction offered by some forecast teams is generally news of interest to growers.
Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project early forecast
One of the earliest forecasts released each year is the CSU early season outlook, released earlier this month. If that forecast is not revised (which CSU forecasters say almost always is subject to updates depending on evolving climate events) the 2018 Atlantic Basin hurricane forecast calls for a "slightly above-average" season. If that remains true, the 2018 could be incredibly less risky than last year's busy storm year.
Colorado State's forecast team is predicting seven hurricanes in 2018 but reminds the public while that prediction number may rise, it only takes one major hurricane landfall to cause serious damages and destruction, and even human deaths.
To add to the hope of a milder summer tropical storm season this year is an early opinion issued by the University College of London's Tropical Storm Risk group who is calling for about a 15 percent lower than the long-term average number of storms this year.
But before we become too comfortable in early predictions, forecasters at the EU's Center for Medium-range Weather Forecasting has unofficially hinted that late season climate development could take a turn toward a more active season.
Most forecasters agree it is too early to get a good handle on just how the summer tropical season will develop. But most agree now is the time to start paying close attention to forthcoming models and to begin planning for the possibility of a major storm affecting the continental United States.
It is important to note that damage estimates for 2017 Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma — three of the top five costliest hurricanes ever recorded — are estimated at about $265 billion. The effects of Harvey were to cost some $125 billion alone. Only Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast in 2005, was more expensive, at $161 billion.
The World Meteorological Organization's Region IV Hurricane Committee retired all three names (Harvey, Irma and Maria) because of the horrific destruction they caused.