Another hurricane season is upon us in Southwest Florida and I’m sure that by now you’ve heard it’s forecast to be a below-average season as far as the number of named storms in the Atlantic Basin.
The 2011 season produced 19 named tropical storms, of which seven became hurricanes. Of those seven hurricanes, four became major hurricanes with wind speeds of more than 110 mph.
The strongest of these storms was Ophelia, which formed near the Cape Verde Islands and became a Category 4 storm at its peak with 140 mph maximum sustained winds.
Last year, Florida wasn’t affected by any of the 19 storms. It was an active season, but as far as Florida (and specifically Southwest Florida) is concerned, it was a good season.
This year, the 2012 hurricane season got an early start, with Tropical Storms Alberto and Beryl forming before the official June 1 start date. This is the first time that two named storms formed before the official start of the season since 1908. By the way, the 1908 season ended with 10 named storms, slightly below the average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
On June 1, the forecast team at Colorado State University, one of the most respected tropical forecasting entities smartly located in a place that never sees tropical storms, updated its forecast, now predicting 13 named tropical storms, of which four will become hurricanes. And of those five hurricanes, two will become major hurricanes with winds of more than 110 mph.
Phil Klotzbach, William Gray and the staff at Colorado State are calling for a near-normal to slightly below normal season due to an increased chance for the development of an El Niño during the season. This is the opposite weather setup of what was in place last year with a La Niña that produced warmer than normal Atlantic Ocean water and weaker than normal wind shear.
This year, the water of the Atlantic Ocean is expected to run below normal. Tropical storms like water above 80 degrees and ideally above 82 degrees. Wind shear is also expected to be greater than normal, which would tend to tear apart any storms that try to develop.
It should be a below-average season, but it may not necessarily be a good season for Southwest Florida. Something that the forecast doesn’t predict is where any storm will develop and track. It would only take one storm moving into Southwest Florida to make it a bad season for us.
For example, 1960 was forecast as a "below average year." It was. There were only seven named storms the entire season, but the fourth one, Donna, made landfall in Southwest Florida between Naples and Fort Myers as a Category 4 storm.
Hurricane Donna holds the record for retaining major hurricane status for the longest period of time in the Atlantic Basin. For nine days, from Sept. 2-11, Donna consistently had maximum sustained winds of at least 115 mph.
To this day, Donna remains the ninth-costliest U.S. Atlantic hurricane on record. Because of Donna, one can argue that 1960 was a busy year for Southwest Florida because it only takes one.
So you need to prepare for the peak of hurricane season just like you would for a busy season.
As ABC-7’s chief meteorologist, I can promise you that by watching the Storm Warn 7 Hurricane Team of meteorologists either on TV or online, we will always inform you of where a threatening storm is, how it is behaving and exactly when the threat to Southwest Florida would be, if a threat indeed exists.
But that information does little good if you don’t take the initiative before there is a threat. That is why you need to read this hurricane guide, formulate a plan and be prepared, just in case one of those 10 forecast storms tracks toward Southwest Florida.