April 9, 2015 / 9:55 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. storm forecasters predict below-average Atlantic hurricane season

DENVER (Reuters) - The Atlantic Ocean will see a “well below average” number of hurricanes this season due to cooler Caribbean waters and a strong El Nino effect, forecasters with Colorado State University predicted on Thursday.

The university’s Tropical Meteorology Project calls for seven named storms this year, with three reaching hurricane status, including one major hurricane with winds upward of 111 miles-per-hour (178 kph), CSU researchers estimate in their annual report.

In an average year, the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico see 12 named tropical storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes during the six-month season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, the report said.

The CSU team bases its estimates on 60 years of compiled data from Atlantic sea surface temperatures, sea level pressure, vertical wind shear levels, and an El Nino event in the tropical Pacific Ocean, the university said in a statement accompanying the report.

The El Nino phenomenon is the warming of tropical waters in the central and eastern Pacific, which affects global weather patterns, including winds. El Nino makes the formation of hurricanes in the Atlantic-Caribbean basin less likely.

The report’s lead author, Phil Klotzbach, said the combination of all those factors point to a well below average year for hurricane activity.

“Historical data indicate fewer storms form in these conditions,” Klotzbach said.

The CSU report also placed the odds of a major hurricane making landfall along the entire U.S. coastline at 28 percent, down from the historical average of 52 percent.

Klotzbach said the report is an estimate, and cautioned residents in coastal regions to always prepare for severe storms.

“It takes only one landfall event near you to make this an active season,” he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. government’s top climate agency, will issue its hurricane forecast next month, a spokesman said.

The CSU team will issue three updates to its forecasts in June, July and August.

Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler

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