This 2011 hurricane outlook from AccuWeather is frighteningly precise: There will be 15 named tropical storms, eight that will swell into hurricanes and three that will become major cyclones of Category 3 strength or higher. Contrast that with an average year, which has 10 tropical storms turning into six hurricanes with two becoming "major" (winds above 110 m.p.h.).
The outlook forecasts a decrease in activity from the 12 hurricanes generated in 2010. The crucial difference, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Paul Pastelok, is that the hurricanes in 2011 will have "more impact on the mainland of the U.S." Last year, they were mostly prevented from making landfall by the location of the jet stream and storm tracks that curved them out to sea.
To craft their outlook, Pastelok's team consulted different atmospheric events expected to occur this year, including the northern Atlantic's warmer waters acting as "hurricane fuel" and a repositioning of Azores and Bermuda high-pressure zones that could move cyclones "closer to Florida and also up the East Coast." As is typical of the hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, the threat will begin in the Gulf of Mexico and move up the East Coast to the Carolinas and northern New England late in the season.
But before you go buy more insurance, consider how difficult it is to forecast these big daddies of the storm world.
"There is no way to accurately predict the number of land-falling hurricanes," says Bob Ryan, ABC7 senior meteorologist. "NOAA does not issue outlooks for the number of landfalls. La Nina going to neutral would favor a high number, but I can't see the pattern meaning more landfalls."
And a high number doesn't necessarily correlate with landfall. There were only four hurricanes in 1992. But the one that made land, the Category 5 Hurricane Andrew, wreaked unprecedented damage in Florida's Dade County and was the most expensive disaster in the U.S. until Katrina swallowed the Gulf. "Where one hits rather than the total number is the critical factor," says Ryan.
Speaking of Katrina, if you haven't seen it already here is the National Weather Service's incredible "doomsday forecast," issued in New Orleans a day before the monster storm made land:
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28 2005
...DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED...
HURRICANE KATRINA...A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED STRENGTH...RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969.
MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS...PERHAPS LONGER. AT LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL... LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.
THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL. PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. ALL WOOD FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE...INCLUDING SOME WALL AND ROOF FAILURE.
HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY...A FEW TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. ALL WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT.
AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD...AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS...PETS...AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THEWINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.
POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS...AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.
THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING...BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED. FEW CROPS WILL REMAIN. LIVESTOCK LEFT EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL BE KILLED.
AN INLAND HURRICANE WIND WARNING IS ISSUED WHEN SUSTAINED WINDS NEAR HURRICANE FORCE...OR FREQUENT GUSTS AT OR ABOVE HURRICANE FORCE...ARE CERTAIN WITHIN THE NEXT 12 TO 24 HOURS.ONCE TROPICAL STORM AND HURRICANE FORCE WINDS ONSET...DO NOT VENTURE OUTSIDE!