Predictions: 2014 could be quieter-than-average hurricane year

Two of the leading hurricane scientific research groups have issued forecasts calling for average to below-average activity in the Atlantic and Caribbean basins in 2014.

The expected development of a moderate El Nino condition in the eastern Pacific Ocean and cooler-than-average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic are the reasons for the predictions, according to teams from N.C. State University and Colorado State University.

The outlooks come on the heels of what was a bad year for forecasters in 2013. Most scientists expected above-average activity, but last season was the first in 45 years without a major hurricane.

The Colorado State team of William Gray and Philip Klotzbach forecast nine named storms in 2014, which is three below average. Gray and Klotzbach predict three will become hurricanes (less than half the 6.5 average) and one will become a major hurricane (the average is two).

A four-member N.C. State team headed by Lian Xie is calling for numbers closer to the averages – eight to 11 named storms, with four to six becoming hurricanes and one to three growing to major hurricane strength.

El Nino is the name given a meteorological condition of warmer-than-average water temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean. That condition tends to create a west-to-east atmospheric current across the southern United States, and the flow serves to disrupt developing tropical systems in the Atlantic.

Cooler-than-average water in the tropical Atlantic also deprives would-be tropical systems of the fuel needed for their development.

After very busy 2004 and 2005 seasons, the United States has been living a relatively charmed life with tropical weather systems. A major hurricane – Category 3 or stronger on the Saffir-Simpson scale of 1 to 5 – hasn’t hit the U.S. coast since Hurricane Wilma in October 2005. That is the longest such period on record.

But in their 2014 forecast, Colorado State meteorologists William Gray and Philip Klotzbach said that the number of hurricanes isn’t necessarily the key factor.

“Coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them,” Klotzbach wrote in the report.

The U.S. government’s National Hurricane Center will issue its forecast in late May.

The tropical storm season in the Atlantic basin extends from June 1 through Nov. 30.