National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Each year, NOAA helps the United States prepare for hurricanes by issuing a seasonal outlook before the official start of the season on June 1. The outlook offers a prediction of how many storms might occur during the upcoming season. While the 2019 outlook is not yet available, Gerry Bell, Ph.D., from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, spoke to reporters at the National Press Club on March 5 about how NOAA creates this outlook and the climate drivers that fuel or suppress a hurricane season.

Bell said the Atlantic remains in a period of increased hurricane activity that began in 1995 and generates more, stronger, and longer-lived storms. This “high-activity era” is part of a natural, multi-decadal pattern that was recorded as far back as the 1800s. Historically, periods of increased activity last anywhere from 25-40 years, followed by periods of decreased activity lasting the same amount of time. Since 1995, the number of Atlantic major hurricanes has nearly doubled from previous low-activity era that extended from 1971 to 1994. During the same period, the number of U.S. landfalling hurricanes increased nearly 50 percent to approximately two per season.

From left, Jeremy Gregory, Ph.D., Gerry Bell, Ph.D, and moderator Ferdous Al-Faruque.
 From left, Jeremy Gregory, Ph.D., Gerry Bell, Ph.D, and moderator Ferdous Al-Faruque. 


In addition, Bell identified several global climate patterns that can drive hurricane development within that high-activity era. The Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO) influences hurricane seasons over several decades and the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) drives year-to-year variability. “By predicting key climate patterns, we can often predict these regional hurricane-controlling conditions, and therefore predict the strength of the upcoming hurricane season,” he said. 

Bell was joined on the panel by Jeremy Gregory, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Concrete Sustainability Hub and Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Gregory engaged reporters on the topic of resilient construction and the use of hazard-resistant materials to reduce costs over time. 

Bell and Gregory used the opportunity to discuss the importance of hurricane preparedness. Together, the two talked about what residents living in coastal regions can do to prepare for hurricane season each year, and provided tips for tailoring those plans to specific location and needs. 

Read more about the event here at the National Press Club.