Up to 20 storms this hurricane season

If the National Hurricane Center starts talking about Tropical Storm Van later this year, it will mean the 2013 hurricane season was just as busy as forecasters predicted and there were 20 named storms.

The forecast released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center calls for an above average season with 13 to 20 named storms that have wind speeds of at least 39 miles per hour.

Of those storms, NOAA predicted seven to 11 of them will become hurricanes with wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour. The forecast also calls for three to six of those storms to develop into major hurricanes with wind speeds of at least 111 miles per hour or greater.

The 2013 forecast is well above an average season based on numbers collected by NOAA from 1981 to 2010. An average season includes 12 named storms with six becoming hurricanes, and three of those becoming major hurricanes with wind speeds at 111 miles per hour or greater.

With 21 names on the tropical storm list for any given year, the 20th name on the list is “Van” and the last name on the list is “Wendy.”

After “Wendy” is used, the storms are named after Greek letters, which had to be done in 2005 when forecasters were forced to names storms Alpha, Beta, Gama and Zeta as the hurricane season kept brewing up storms.

One reason for the above average season forecast is the continuation of climate patterns that began in 1995 and contribute to more storm formations. The more active cycle can go on for decades before reverting to a quieter decades-long period of fewer storms.

Kathryn Sullivan, acting undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and acting NOAA administrator, said other factors contributing to the active forecast include warmer than average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

A third factor contributing to the busy season is the near average water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Those temperatures mean an El Niño climate condition isn’t likely to occur.

The El Niño is a warmer than normal sea surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean, which can create greater than normal upper atmospheric winds. These winds, also called wind shear, can hamper the development of storms or prevent tropical storms from forming.

In contrast, La Niña weather pattern means cooler sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean and less wind shear, which can lead to more or stronger tropical storms.

When asked if the active forecast means that people should expect storms to form earlier than normal this year, Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said it’s hard to tell.

“The bulk of the hurricane season comes in August, September, October,” Bell said. “The patterns for this hurricane season is just evolving, so we can’t tease out any particular month.”

Also, he said, the forecast released Thursday looks at the severity of the expected season, but it says nothing about where tropical storms could make landfall.

“Where a hurricane strikes really depends on weather conditions when the hurricane forms,” Bell said.

Last year, four storms made landfall in the United States, with Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana, Hurricane Sandy along the East Coast, and tropical storms Beryl and Debby in Florida.

Forecasters urged people to take precautions and prepare for the season before storms begin to form.

“Become ready now,” Sullivan said.

Websites with information about how to develop a disaster plan:

East Baton Rouge Parish: www.redstickready.com/

State of Louisiana: www.getagameplan.org/

American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/

Federal Emergency Management Agency: http://www.ready.gov/