Hurricane experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration delivered some potentially bad news on Thursday: 2013's Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30, is forecasted to be "active or extremely active," poised to produce 3-6 "major" hurricanes, 7-11 regular hurricanes, and more than a dozen tropical storms. "These ranges are well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes," warns the NOAA's report, which cites "warmer-than-average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean" and the unlikely development of El Niño, an enormous ribbon of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean that mitigates the growth of certain hurricanes.
The report certainly sounds ominous. And it's difficult to imagine (or at least painful to imagine) another Hurricane Sandy striking the United States so soon. But it's a good idea to listen to the NOAA here. According to The Washington Post, the agency joins the consensus of eight other weather forecasting groups in predicting a turbulent hurricane season. Plus, the NOAA's estimates tend to undershoot actual events. In 2010, USA Today observed that "since 2000, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's prediction for the number of tropical storms and hurricanes has been too high in only one season: 2006." The conservative pattern held for the 2012 season, when two major hurricanes appeared. (The the NOAA had predicted between 1 and 3.)
Of course, one of those hurricanes turned out to be Sandy, which devastated portions of North America's East Coast. (The other, Hurricane Michael, never struck land.) That highlights the inherent weakness of hurricane predictions: it's impossible to tell which storms will reach land, at what time, and with what sort of intensity. "NOAA's seasonal hurricane outlook is not a hurricane landfall forecast; it does not predict how many storms will hit land or where a storm will strike," the agency explains.
Thankfully, we already know what to call the coming hurricanes and storms in the 2013 season. Get ready for Hurricane Van and Tropical Storm Jerry.