NOAA expects 2016’s storm count to be near-normal, but other forecasters disagree.
Tornadoes, floods, thunderstorms, wildfires; there has been no shortage of weather-related stories in recent weeks – even the delayed monsoon across South Asia has changed into top gear.
But, where are all the hurricanes and typhoons which we would normally expected to see grabbing the headlines by this time of the year?
Across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the Caribbean Sea, cyclones – the collective name for hurricanes and typhoons – have been noticeable by their absence.
In the northwest Pacific, the season runs throughout the year – although the peak is between May and October.
To date, there has not been a single named storm in this region.
According to Mike Fiorino of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this is only the sixth time since 1950 that the first named storm of the season has developed after June 1.
Climatological ‘no man’s land’
There would appear to be a clear explanation for this slow start: 2016 is year undergoing a transition from El Nino to La Nina, similar to 1998, 1983 and 1973.
In this climatological “no man’s land”, neutral atmospheric conditions – not conducive to cyclone formation – tend to prevail.
Currently, the surface pressure across the northwest Pacific is higher than average, with dry, descending air damping down any potential cyclone development.
Again, looking at the historical precedents, 1973, 1983 and 1998 all ended up with below average typhoon activity, so there is every possibility that we will see fewer than long term average of 13 typhoons and six major typhoons.
It is a similar story in the northeast Pacific where the only named storm to the east of the International Date Line, was Hurricane Pali in mid-January. That storm, in essence, belonged to the El Nino induced warm water of 2015’s season.
Nevertheless, the prediction from both NOAA and Mexico’s national weather organisation is that the season will end close to the long-term average of eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.
In the Atlantic, there have been just three named storms since Hurricane Alex in early January.
Here, too, the demise of El Nino is expected to encourage an increase in the number of hurricanes, but only to around the long-term average of six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.