The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) updated its outlook from an “above-normal” Atlantic hurricane season to a normal- to just-above-normal-status during a recent media teleconference.
In May, NOAA made an initial forecast of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, which officially extends from June 1 to Nov. 30. NOAA had set the chances of an above-normal season occurring at 65 percent. Another above-normal season would make this the seventh above-average hurricane season in a row. During the May forecast, NOAA predicted there would be 14 to 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), six to 10 hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), and three to six major hurricanes (Category 3 to 5, and winds of 111 mph or higher). NOAA attributed the increased activity forecast to “several climate factors,” including the ongoing La Niña phenomena, warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, weaker Atlantic trade winds, and an enhanced west African monsoon.
The new outlook predicts some places have a 60 percent chance of an “above-normal” Atlantic hurricane season occurring. The forecast number of named storms and hurricanes has not changed, but the number of major hurricanes decreased slightly, to three to five.
“So far this season, there have been three named storms in the Atlantic basin, and we are now entering the peak month of the Atlantic hurricane season,” Matthew Rosencrans, lead hurricane season outlook forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said. “Historically, this is when about 90 percent of all Atlantic tropical cyclones activity occurs.”
The outlook is a general guide to storm activities in the Atlantic, and does not “specifically predict land-falling storms,” which are usually predictable within one week of the storm reaching the coastline, according to Rosencrans.“Now is the time to know your risk, develop a plan, and be prepared for potential tropical storms or hurricanes ahead,” Rosencrans said.
NOAA also improved various “products and services” in preparation for the upcoming hurricane season, such as the weather and climate operational supercomputing system, and an excessive-rainfall outlook, among others.
When asked how the forecast increase in storms will affect the Cape and Islands, Rosencrans said there is no information in the outlook on where the storms will go during the season, but “the more vulnerable you are to an impact from a storm, the more preparations you should make now.”
Although hurricanes and tropical storms lose strength over land, Martha’s Vineyard can still feel its far-away effects, particularly from rains and winds. Whenever a hurricane watch is issued, Vineyarders are forced to make preparations to brace for impact, even if it turns out to be all right. However, the Island has experienced damaging storms before. Hurricane Bob gave the Island a walloping in 1991.
Island officials are wary of the damage storms can cause. “We keep a close eye on the forecast for major storms throughout the year, not just hurricane season, but obviously that’s a big one,” Oak Bluffs Fire Chief and emergency manager Nelson Wirtz said.
Wirtz said plans are in place to meet these weather events, such as readying shelters and coordinating with community partners (e.g. Red Cross, Salvation Army, Eversource).
“All of us are always talking. We have a meeting once a month, on the emergency management side, just to ensure we are ready for any type of natural or manmade event,” Wirtz said. “Obviously, everything is very chaotic when those things happen, and the best way to mitigate that is to have a plan in place.”
“In Menemsha, our biggest concern is the residential boats and transient boats that we have in the water when there is a named storm that’s pending through our area,” Chilmark harbormaster Ryan Rossi told The Times. He said preparations for storms include securing any loose gear in the harbor, barring any more transient boats than those already at Menemsha, and an email blast warning residential mooring permit holders. If there is a hurricane warning, Rossi sends transient vessels back to their home ports.
Any potential storms are treated “very seriously,” according to Rossi. He said his department takes the preparatory measures needed to protect Chilmark’s infrastructure and town facilities.
“One thing I can’t do is predict Mother Nature,” Rossi said. “But, we always overprepare for any storm.”
Staffing is increased during the storms, Wirtz said, so “people are in the station ready to respond.” Wirtz told The Times there are also rules in place on whether the emergency responders can truly respond, based on the ferocity of the storm.
“We can put our people in only so much danger, because once we go down, that’s it. Nobody else is coming for a long time,” Wirtz said. “We’re very cognizant of protecting our crews while still being able to provide emergency coverage for Oak Bluffs, in specific, but also for the entire Island … we have to weigh the possibility with the likelihood of it happening.”
Wirtz emphasized that the storms can have an unpredictability to them that makes this balancing act necessary in southern New England. “You just never know. You can be well-prepared for a storm that’s definitely going to hit you, and all of a sudden it veers off. The opposite can also happen, where it looks like it’s not going to hit us and an hour later it changes course and we’re in the bull’s-eye,” he said. “So we have to be prepared for that.”