US government set to release hurricane season outlook

Published 9:49 am Friday, May 27, 2016

MIAMI — The U.S. government will release its forecast Friday for how many hurricanes and tropical storms are expected to form over Atlantic and Caribbean waters in the next six months.

It’s an annual reminder from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that coastal living comes with significant risks.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts June 1, but tropical weather got a head-start this year: Hurricane Alex made an unseasonable debut in January over the far eastern Atlantic, and the National Hurricane Center says an area of low pressure between Bermuda and the Bahamas could be brewing into something bigger Friday or Saturday.

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The long-term season averages are 12 named storms, with six hurricanes and three “major” ones with winds topping 110 mph.

2015 tally

The 2015 season was slightly below average with 11 named storms, including two tropical storms that made landfall and caused flooding in South Carolina and Texas. Hurricane Joaquin, one of two storms to reach major hurricane strength, killed all 33 mariners aboard a cargo ship that sank off the Bahamas in October.

A U.S. Coast Guard panel is investigating the sinking of the El Faro, which was sailing from Jacksonville, Florida, to Puerto Rico when it got caught in Joaquin. Testimony since mid-May has shown the ship’s captain received outdated storm information the day before the ship sank. Initial forecasts for Joaquin also were wildly inaccurate.

Coastal risks

The last major hurricane to strike the U.S. mainland was Hurricane Wilma, which cut across Florida in 2005. Since then, the population in the 185 coastline counties most threatened by hurricanes has grown 8.7 percent to 59.2 million people, according to U.S. Census estimates.

Overall, 143.6 million people — 44.7 percent of the U.S. population — from Maine to Texas could be living in harm’s way. Other Census figures hint at the potential financial risks throughout those states: 60.1 million housing units and 3.3 million business establishments with 52.3 million paid workers.

Storm winds can reach frightening speeds, but they aren’t the deadliest threat. According to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, storm surge and rainfall flooding combine for three-quarters of all U.S. deaths from hurricanes, tropical storms or tropical depressions.