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Below Normal Hurricane Season Predicted

By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor

Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are predicting a below normal 2022 hurricane season, which begins June 1 and runs through November 30. Experts say there is a 60 percent chance of below-normal tropical cyclone activity during the Central Pacific hurricane season this year, according to NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center and NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, divisions of the National Weather Service. The outlook also indicates a 30 percent chance for near-normal activity, and only a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season.

For the season as a whole, forecasters are expecting two to four tropical cyclones for the Central Pacific hurricane region. This number includes tropical depressions, named storms and hurricanes. A near-normal season has four or five tropical cyclones. The outlook does not predict whether, or how many, of these systems will affect Hawaii, however. 

“This year we are predicting less activity in the Central Pacific region compared to normal seasons,” said Matthew Rosencrans, NOAA’s lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center. “The ongoing La Nina is likely to cause strong vertical wind shear making it more difficult for hurricanes to develop or move into the Central Pacific Ocean.”

Molokai has historically dodged direct hurricane hits, said John Bravender, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. But the island has had its share of storm effects in the past. 

“Actually, just last year the remnants of Linda tracked across Molokai and brought some heavy rain to the island,” he said. Hurricane Linda crossed Hawaii in mid-August, 2021. 

“We don’t have a record of a hurricane or tropical storm hitting Molokai directly, but it doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” continued Bravender. “For example, Tropical Storm Olivia made landfall over West Maui and Lanai in 2018 and still brought flash flooding to Molokai. Going farther back, it looks like Raymond in 1983, Gilma in 1988, and Linda in 2021 were the three Tropical Depressions or remnant lows to move across Molokai.”

Bravender said UH faculty also recreated the track from the 1871 Kohala Cyclone, based on information printed in Hawaiian newspapers at the time. Using the newspaper reports, they estimated the storm as a Category 3 hurricane that impacted much of Hawaii, and its projected track crossed directly over central Molokai. 

Even though this season is predicted below normal, experts stress not to be complacent in preparing for hurricane season. 

“One thing to emphasize about the hurricane season outlook is that it’s for the entire Central Pacific area and doesn’t address potential impacts to Hawaii,” Bravender said. “To drive home this point, we created composite wind fields from 2015 (our record-setting year with 16 tropical cyclones) and 2020 (a below-normal year with just two tropical cyclones).  Even with just two in 2020, one of them was Douglas, the eye of which passed just a couple dozen miles north of the state.”

Thirty years ago this year, Hurricane Iniki dealt a major direct blow to Kauai, reminded Chris Brenchley, director of NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center.

“Throughout the state of Hawaii, we must take note that the possibility of a hurricane in these islands is real,” said Brenchley. “Make a preparedness plan and communicate it to your friends and family. Together, we can make our communities more weather ready and resilient.”

The Central Pacific Hurricane Center continuously monitors weather conditions, employing a network of satellites, land- and ocean-based sensors, and aircraft reconnaissance missions operated by NOAA and its partners, according to a NOAA press release. This array of data supplies the information for complex computer modeling and human expertise, which are the basis for the Center’s storm track and intensity forecasts. These forecasts can be checked by visiting the Central Pacific Hurricane Center’s website, nhc.noaa.gov/?cpac

NOAA’s fleet of earth-observing satellites were further enhanced in March with the launch of the GOES-18 satellite, which will be used by forecasters to track and forecast tropical cyclones and other storms in the Pacific Ocean.

This summer, NOAA says it will triple its operational supercomputing capacity for weather and climate, allowing for more detailed, higher-resolution Earth models that can handle larger ensembles, advanced physics and improved data assimilation. 

For hurricane preparedness tips, visit Ready.gov. A free handbook to prepare for natural hazards can be downloaded at seagrant.soest.hawaii.edu/homeowners-handbook-to-prepare-for-natural-hazards/.

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