The mighty El Nino that has ruled weather patterns globally since last summer is finally showing signs of weakening, and will likely transition to neutral by summer.
But forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center believe that there is a 50 percent chance La Nina will take effect early this fall.
That could be bad news for hurricane season.
As El Nino protected Florida from hurricanes by swatting them down with abnormally strong westerly winds aloft, La Nina can encourage hurricanes by paving a way to the coast with easterly winds.
During neutral years — between La Nina and El Niño — ocean temperatures, tropical rainfall patterns and wind patterns are closer to long term averages.
“It’s certainly possible that La Nina could be in place by late autumn (2016), which would favor an active Atlantic hurricane season,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and blogger for Weather Underground during a December interview about La Nina. “The closer we are to La Niña, the more favorable it is for hurricanes to develop in the Atlantic.”
In an early discussion of how the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season will play out, Colorado State University researchers looked at storm seasons that followed the 10 strongest El Niño years since 1871.
Seven of the years were marked by more and stronger storms, including three — 1878, 1906, 1998 — that were very active.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1998 was the deadliest hurricane season in more than 200 years with thousands of deaths reported in Central America.
“In a remarkable span of 35 days, starting on Aug. 19 and ending Sept. 23, 10 named tropical cyclones formed,” the National Hurricane Center notes in its archives about the 1998 storm season. “That’s about a whole season’s worth of activity crammed into a month.”
Still, Philip Klotzbach, a research scientist with Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science, said a La Nina is not a guarantee there will be more hurricanes.
“We’re very confident that El Nino will be gone by next hurricane season,” Klotzbach said in a December interview. “I think the odds are 2016 will be more active, but there’s nothing definite.”