Nearing the midway point of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, activity has been relatively muted so far, with five named storm systems taking shape, none of which resulted in significant damage, if any at all. But with the most active period of the violent weather period approaching, many meteorologists believe that the quiet trend could make a 180-degree shift, the likes of which hasn't been seen since Superstorm Sandy came ashore in 2012, according to a newly released forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
After initially projecting a 25 percent chance the Atlantic Ocean would produce an unusually low number of hurricanes, the NOAA has since revised that assessment. It now believes that there's just a 15 percent likelihood the season will see fewer named storms than what is typical. Additionally, experts now believe there's a 70 percent chance that 12 to 17 storms will form, with between five and eight substantial enough to be classified as hurricanes. Tropical storms are by definition hurricanes when sustained winds reach a minimum of 74 miles per hour. Back in May, when weather experts made their initial outlook, they forecast a 70 percent likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms.
As of Aug. 17, five tropical storms have developed, each of which was substantial enough to have a name, those being Alex, Bonnie, Colin, Danielle and Earl. Named storms produce wind gusts of 39 mph or more.
Effects of El Nino not as significant
Why do meteorologists think Mother Nature has more in store? Gerry Bell, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center lead forecaster, says it all has to do with the weather phenomenon known as El Nino and it's effects not playing out quite like was projected back in May, among other contributing factors.
"We've raised the numbers because some conditions now in place are indicative of a more active hurricane season, such as El Nino ending, weaker vertical wind shear and weaker trade winds over the central tropical Atlantic, and a stronger west African monsoon," Bell explained.
At the same time, though, atmospheric conditions and ocean temperatures are such that it's highly unlikely hurricane formations will increase substantially.
Emergency planning critical regardless of what forecasters anticipate
Regardless, safety experts acknowledge that homeowners and business owners shouldn't let this deter them from taking precautions. When Superstorm Sandy reached the Tri-state Area back in 2012, it was a Category 2 weather maker, meaning that it wasn't a major hurricane, according to the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. Nevertheless, due to its sheer size – spanning almost the entirety of the Atlantic seaboard – Sandy was the second-most damaging hurricane on record. Only Hurricane Katrina was more impactful in terms of insured losses. Katrina was the last major hurricane that has made landfall in the U.S.
"While seasonal forecasts may vary from year to year – some high, some low – it only takes one storm to significantly disrupt your life," warned Joseph Nimmich, deputy administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
He added that everyone should develop plans that lay out the best course of action before, during and after a hurricane. Obtaining important emergency contact information so everyone can be informed of the latest developments is also crucial.
Perhaps nothing is more important for business owners than continuity planning. No one can control the weather, but company managers have the ability to prepare for what Mother Nature throws at them by having the tools and systems in place to keep things up and running when the great outdoors fails to cooperate. Business continuity planning makes recovery possible and helps ensure that productivity stays afloat even when flood waters threaten.