Stormy tropics may be quieter for South Carolina this summer

April 6, 2017

Cooler waters, the chance an El Nino might rear up head and an array of other climate factors suggest this year’s Atlantic hurricane season should be quieter than usual.

There’s less chance of an East Coast landfall too.

That’s the word from the Tropical Meteorology Project, a brainchild of the late hurricane guru Bill Gray, and considered among the best in hurricane research.

The project’s April predictions have been accurate 80 percent of the time in the past 25 years, said Phil Klotzbach, the project’s lead research scientist.

The key point is that it should mean anxiety-ease for South Carolina coastal residents, who are still recovering from Hurricane Matthew’s rampage last October.

Still, the forecast isn’t totally certain, Klotzbach cautioned, repeating the adage that it only takes one hurricane hitting landfall to make for a bad season.

“Everyone should realize that it is impossible to precisely predict this season’s hurricane activity in early April,” he said.

The project predicts 11 tropical storms — four becoming hurricanes — and two of those becoming major hurricanes, slightly below the long-term average of 12 storms, 6.5 hurricanes and two major ones.

The chance of landfall along the East coast is 24 percent, well below the long-term average of 31 percent.

The numbers are something of a surprise because meteorologists paid close attention to unusually warm ocean waters that lingered over the winter, which could spur more hurricanes.

But pockets of waters that Klotzbach follows closely had cooled over the past month, and Arctic waters remained cool enough to continue suggesting the Atlantic basin has moved into a less-active hurricane period.

El Nino is a trend of warmer Pacific waters stirring winds that knock down tropical cyclones in the Atlantic.

Matthew in early October 2016 did a number on the coast despite being only a marginal hurricane as it passed while blowing few inland winds of hurricane strength. Four people died, and a fifth during the clean up. Damage has been estimated at more than $100 million.

Thursday’s prediction release is among the first of a number of research groups that will issue predictions in the next two months. The “official” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast is released in late May.