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Texas and the rest of the Gulf and East coasts are most likely to see a “near-normal” hurricane season this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Federal forecasters are predicting between 12 and 17 named storms will form this season, the agency announced Thursday. One to four of those storms could be hurricanes rated Category 3 or higher, meaning they will have wind speeds of at least 111 miles per hour.
NOAA defines an average Atlantic hurricane season as one with 14 named storms, of which three are those stronger hurricanes.
“It’s time to prepare,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said at a news conference Thursday. “Remember, it only takes one storm to devastate a community.”
This year’s forecast stands out because meteorological conditions that both suppress and encourage hurricane development are at play, scientists said.
The agency expects a so-called El Niño pattern to develop, which has been known to dampen hurricane activity in the Atlantic and was not in place in recent years. But other factors in the Atlantic Ocean such as warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures can fuel storm development. Warming sea surfaces are linked to climate change.
Scientists are still studying expectations for how El Niño will affect future hurricane seasons as the planet warms, NOAA forecaster Matthew Rosencrans said.
“It’s definitely kind of a rare setup for this year,” Rosencrans said, explaining that this was why the certainty for a near-normal season was only 40%.
Hurricanes are more likely to be stronger and rains more likely to be heavier because of climate change. It’s also possible that more hurricanes will continue to get stronger over a short time close to landfall.
“The risks of these storms are different than the risks that [communities] faced 10 years ago,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell said at the news conference.
Texas is of course vulnerable to the impacts of storms, made worse by rising sea levels. A $31 billion plan that includes blocking off the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel with giant gates ahead of storms is far from fruition, if it happens at all.
Texas legislators have been debating during this legislative session whether to set aside about $1 billion for that and other flood prevention projects — a fraction of what is needed to protect communities better against storms.
The U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves praised NOAA’s improved forecast accuracy and urged residents to prepare. Experts suggest that residents should plan a potential evacuation route, create a disaster supply kit and consider buying homeowners and flood insurance.
Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, though storms can also form ahead of and after that time frame.
“NOAA and FEMA are prepared for the upcoming season,” Graves said. “Now it’s time for communities to prepare as well.”
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