How many Atlantic hurricanes can we expect this year?

NOAA/NASA-GSFC Lab for Atmospher

The Atlantic can expect slightly below-average hurricane activity this year, a noted longtime hurricane forecaster predicts.

But coastal residents should never let up their guard, advised Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist with Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project. “It only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them,” he said. “They should prepare the same for every season, regardless of how much activity is predicted.”

Klotzbach predicts four hurricanes, two major hurricanes and 11 named storms in all, including less-severe tropical and sub-tropical storms in the Atlantic basin.

Since 1981, the Atlantic has seen a median 6.5 hurricanes each year, two major hurricanes and 12 named storms, according to Klotzbach.

He also anticipates a below-average probability of major hurricanes making landfall along the U.S. coast and Caribbean.

Hurricane season begins on June 1 and continues through November.

Klotzbach and his colleagues in Colorado State’s Department of Atmospheric Science make their predictions using a statistical model based on 29 years of data.

Why the slightly lower predicted activity this year?

The tropical Atlantic has cooled over the past month, and the far North Atlantic remains colder than normal, Klotzbach wrote in an April 6 report with Michael Bell, an associate professor in Colorado State’s Department of Atmospheric Science.

Those factors tend to produce atmospheric conditions that make it more difficult for Atlantic hurricanes to form and intensify, the report said.

And an El Niño weather pattern is forecast to develop in coming months, he said.

El Niño favors stronger hurricane activity in the central and eastern Pacific basins and suppresses hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hurricanes classified as “major” pack winds of at least 111 mph.

Hurricane Hugo, which pounded Charlotte in September 1989, generated 138-mph sustained winds.

Hugo’s official death toll is listed at 13 in South Carolina and six in North Carolina, but between a dozen and two dozen more people died in the days after the storm. Two deaths occurred in the Charlotte area during the storm: A child killed when a tree fell on a house near Weddington and a motorcyclist blown off the road on U.S. 601 between Monroe and Pageland, S.C.

In 2014, the storm’s 25th anniversary year, the S.C. Emergency Management Division estimated that if a storm of Hugo’s strength and path hit today, it could force 1.2 million people to be evacuated, cause more than $16.6 billion in damage and destroy more than 21,000 homes.

Hurricane Matthew in October killed 28 people in North Carolina, most from drowning during or after the storm. At least 17 were driving or were passengers in vehicles on flooded roads that were swept into deep water, the (Raleigh) News & Observer reported. A total of 603 deaths have been attributed to the storm, including 546 in Haiti and 47 in the United States.

Even with Matthew’s deadly destruction, the Atlantic has been in a quieter hurricane period for about four years, Klotzbach said. 1995 to 2012, on the other hand, was “very active” for hurricanes.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak