Could a slower hurricane season be on the horizon? NOAA says maybe
Early signs indicate the Gulf Coast could see fewer hurricanes this year as climate patterns turn less favorable for storm development in the Atlantic Ocean, according to national climate scientists in a briefing Thursday.
For more than two years, a pattern known as La Niña has influenced the weather across the Northern hemisphere. For the Gulf, it has meant a higher likelihood of storm activity because La Niña makes it easier for storms to form.
But in a few months, the climate pendulum could swing the other way.
El Niño, the contrasting pattern to La Niña, could settle in later this year, bringing more wind shear to the Atlantic basin that stymies hurricane formation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Instead, it makes for a busier cyclone season in the Pacific.
For now, the hemisphere has entered a neutral transitional period, known as El Niño-Southern Oscillation-Neutral, or ENSO-Neutral. This change has increased chances for a switch to a true El Nino phase by late summer for the first time in since 2018, though it’s not guaranteed.
“Even though we're favoring the potential development of El Niño as we go into the summer and early fall, it's by no means a certainty,” said Jon Gottschalck, a branch chief for NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, during the agency’s spring outlook briefing Thursday morning.
Between 2017 and 2018, the northern hemisphere entered a weak El Niño phase. The last major El Niño period ended in 2016, according to the Climate Prediction Center. Each El Niño and La Niña phase typically last nine to 12 months but can last longer.
NOAA will release its outlook for the 2023 hurricane season on May 25.
Normal flood risk
During the briefing, NOAA’s climate experts also predicted a higher flood risk for communities in the upper Mississippi River basin due to above average snowpack in the north. But the melting snow isn’t expected to worsen flooding downstream in Louisiana.
That’s because the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers play a larger role in flood levels in the lower basin, according to Jeff Graschel, a hydrologist with the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center.
“We're kind of just looking at normal conditions for the lower part of the Mississippi River near the New Orleans area,” he said.
This spring, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said Louisiana will likely experience above-average temperatures, meaning: it could get really hot in the next few weeks and stay that way for months. The prediction extends from April through June.