In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey shore, destroying thousands of homes and damaging tourist attractions and local businesses. New Jersey has long since recovered, but the fear of hurricanes lingers. Therefore, many people have been worried ever since the first New Jersey hurricane shorecast for 2016 came out. However, there are plenty of reasons why these predictions shouldn’t mean it’s time to cancel this year’s family vacation.
First, the forecasts. Four major meteorological organizations have published their predictions so far: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science, AccuWeather, and the UK’s Tropical Storm Risk. Here is a quick summary of what they reported:
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center
70% chance of…
10-16 tropical storms
4-8 hurricanes threatening the eastern seaboard
1-4 major hurricanes
45% chance of near normal hurricane season
30% chance of above normal hurricane season
25% chance of below normal hurricane season
14 named storms (8 hurricanes and 6 tropical storms)
3 named storms to hit the U.S.
Colorado State University Department of Atmospheric Science
12 named storms
2 major hurricanes
Tropical Storm Risk
13 named storms
2 major hurricanes
While these numbers may seem scary, it’s important to remember that the Climate Prediction Center believes a near normal hurricane season is most likely, and below or above normal hurricane seasons are almost equally likely.
What concerns some people is the fact that the past three years, hurricane seasons have been below normal. The last time we had a normal hurricane season, Sandy happened. There are, however, a few reasons why you shouldn’t run to the supermarket and stock up on canned food and batteries just yet.
El Niño/La Niña
You may hear weather forecasters talking about El Niño and La Niña, which, in meteorology, mean something different from children in Spanish. El Niño is a weather pattern that causes extremely high tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures. This creates winds from the tropics that blow into the Atlantic Ocean. These winds rip rising air, an important component of hurricane formation, apart, thus preventing them. El Niño has been present the past few years, causing below normal hurricane seasons. The Climate Prediction Center expects this pattern to end in late spring or early summer.
On the other hand, La Niña is a weather pattern that causes cooler Pacific Ocean temperatures. There is less wind from the tropics, so the rising air in the Atlantic Ocean remains intact, allowing hurricanes to form. The Climate Prediction Center thinks La Niña will form again in late summer or early fall.
While La Niña has the potential to make this hurricane season more active than previous years, forecasters are unsure how long it will take to form. If it doesn’t finish developing until early fall, hurricane season will already be almost over, so it won’t have as much of an impact. Additionally, the summer tourism season will be over, so vacationers don’t have to worry as much as residents.
The Cold Blob
Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science mentions the existence of a creatively named “cold blob” of water in the Atlantic Ocean near Greenland. This blob could easily move south and cool the warm waters of the Gulf Coast, counteracting hurricane formation.
Stronger Than the Storm
For argument’s sake, let’s just pretend that the forecasts were right, that the hurricane season turns out to be more damaging than the past few years. With Sandy and the lessons learned from it fresh in their minds, New Jersey residents are definitely more prepared for hurricanes, not only mentally, but with supply kits, emergency plans, and perhaps more flood proof buildings.
Chances of Hitting New Jersey
Once again, let’s assume a near normal hurricane season. You can’t tell at this point where these hurricanes will hit. Many Atlantic hurricanes simply travel across the ocean. Others (unfortunately) pass over island nations. A significant percentage of them hit the Gulf coast. There’s only a 30% chance that any of these storms will hit the Atlantic coast. Even if a storm does reach the eastern seaboard, it may miss New Jersey, or weaken into a tropical depression by the time it hits the Garden State.
Finally, people must remember that meteorology isn’t even close to a perfect science. These are just predictions, and the fact that they differ among organizations demonstrates their uncertainty. There’s a saying that weather people are wrong 70% of the time for a reason…
In short, don’t panic about the New Jersey hurricane shorecast yet. The summer has only just started, and too much is still uncertain or subject to change. No need to cancel your vacation!