New forecast predicts more hurricanes because of record-warm sea surface temperatures

Highway 225 in Deer Park along the Houston Ship channel during a heavy downpour from Hurricane Harvey on Saturday Aug. 26, 2017. (Michael Stravato For The Texas Tribune, Michael Stravato For The Texas Tribune)

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Forecasters for the National Weather Service on Thursday announced they now anticipate a more active hurricane season this year because of record-warm sea surface temperatures.

Hurricane season runs from June through November. The NWS’s Climate Prediction Center now estimates six to 11 hurricanes to occur this season — with two to five of those being major hurricanes — in the Atlantic Ocean before Nov. 30. The projection also includes a 60% likelihood this season will see “above normal activity.”

The new projection shows a stark difference from one released in May, in which the agency predicted a near-normal hurricane season citing a 40% probability of near-normal conditions and 30% probability of a below-normal season only predicting five to nine hurricanes.

Even though 2023 is an El Niño year, which typically sees fewer storms in the Atlantic, Bradley Brokamp, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Galveston explained that the phenomenon is offset by the record-high sea surface temperatures.

“The name of the game this season seems to be the heat because it's been quite exceptional,” Brokamp said.

Jeff Lutz, an NWS meteorologist in Corpus Christi, said that the higher probability of storms in the Atlantic means the potential for a storm to hit southeast Texas.

“There's certainly enough fuel, the fuel being the very warm sea surface temperatures and we're getting towards the climatological peak in the beginning of September, when most hurricanes form, " Lutz said. “The big question mark is whether or not we'll get the upper air pattern to allow the storms to get this far into the Gulf of Mexico.”

Upper air patterns are the conditions in the earth's atmosphere above 5,000 feet that determine whether or not a storm system can form. And the climatological peak refers to the period of time when the highest likelihood for storms to form is.

The climatological peak for the Atlantic is Sept. 10.

Lutz and Brokamp both urged residents to make sure they have a plan for how to stay safe and protect their property in case of a hurricane. Some of the largest hurricanes to hit Texas did so late in the hurricane season, typically in August or September.

“For the time being the main thing that southeast Texans probably want to take away from this is use it as a nice reminder to touch up on your plans should a tropical system come here,” Brokamp said. “This is the best time to prepare for this kind of stuff.”

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