GULF OF MEXICO — This year’s Atlantic hurricane season is shaping up to be one of the weakest in decades with only five named storms in the region so far this year.
That is the fewest named storms since the full Atlantic season of 1983, when there were four. The 1994 season also had only five named storms into October, then two hurricanes formed in early November of that year.
Forecasters have projected another two named Atlantic storms for the rest of this year’s season that ends Nov. 30. But there are no signs of any new ones spinning off Africa’s west coast during what is usually the season’s peak period — mid-August to late October.
“The tropical Atlantic is just dead,” said Max Mayfield, a former director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
A typical June-November hurricane season has 12 named storms, nine of them hurricanes and three of those major.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the U.S. hurricane center, in August revised its projection for this year’s season, saying it expected only seven to 12 named storms. It originally had projected eight to 13 named storms, including three to six hurricanes.
Of the five named storms so far this year, four grew into hurricanes, one of them major. That one, Hurricane Edouard, barreled through open waters in mid-September, its 115-mph (185-kph) winds generating only strong waves that delighted surfers in the Caribbean and along the U.S. East Coast.
“We’ve been very fortunate so far,” said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center.
“It was expected to be a less than average season, and so far, that’s panning out,” Feltgen said, noting the peak period is about to end. “It takes a big slide in November.”
An increase in wind shear and dry, sinking air limited storm development this year, said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.
“That combination really, really shuts the season down,” he said.
Hurricanes often begin with remnants of storms in Africa that head west over the Atlantic. But Bell said it hasn’t been a very stormy season. The atmosphere has been stable, preventing moisture and heat from the ocean from rising and feeding any storms. And, with warm water the fuel for hurricanes, the tropical Atlantic is slightly cooler than normal.
Most importantly, the wind between 5,000 and 30,000 feet up is strong and it would essentially prevent heat from rising and forming the core of a hurricane, Bell said.
Officials with the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility said no member countries have requested help this year, with no storm or excessive rainfall policies being triggered.
Total storm energy this year, which takes into account strength of storms and how long they last, is only 41 percent of normal. It’s in stark contrast with the Pacific, where storm energy is 40 percent higher than normal. The eastern Pacific has had 18 named storms this year with eight of them major, tying a record.
“Unless you are on the outer banks of North Carolina, this season has been unbelievably quiet,” Mayfield said.
But no matter how slow it’s been, it takes just one storm to be a disaster, Bell said.
“History says now is not the time to become complacent,” he said.