Forecasters predict busy hurricane season

Tom Burry, owner of Burry's ACE Hardware in La Plaza Grande Shopping Center, prepares a shelf with hurricane prep items.

Another summer of windy, rainy storms appears on the horizon. The first long-range forecasts for the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season suggest residents on the East Coast, including Florida, may expect another above-average season and a high probability that at least one tropical storm or hurricane will make landfall here. Accuweather predicted 16 to 20 named storms in its forecast, including six to eight hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes. Its forecasters think at least four of those named storms will directly impact the mainland. Researchers at Colorado State University, led by national hurricane expert Philip Klotzbach, predicted 19 named storms, including nine hurricanes and 14 major hurricanes. 

Klotzbach released the forecast Thursday at the National Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre Island, Texas.

These outlooks provide the earliest glimpse of what people may expect from the hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. They expect 2022 will be the seventh year in a row with above normal storm activity.

“It certainly looks like it’s going to be a little bit busier,” said Dave Towle, senior forecaster with WVLG 102.7 FM, 104.5 FM & 640 AM. “We’re just short of the 20-storm mark and it’s only April. When we get the updated forecast in June, I would not be surprised to see the number of storms maybe increase by two or more.”

The release of the season’s first hurricane outlooks coincided with the release of a new Gallup poll that assessed how severe weather impacted Americans in recent years.

It showed 33% of Americans personally affected by severe weather in the last two years. Hurricanes were second only to extreme cold in terms of the weather events that most negatively impacted people.

Southern residents, including Floridians, were most likely to say hurricanes impacted them, according to Gallup.

What the Forecasts Say

Accuweather typically is one of the first to issue a long-range forecast for the hurricane season, which it does in part because of the chance of storms that form before the season’s official June 1 start. At least one preseason tropical cyclone formed in each of the last seven hurricane seasons.

Accuweather’s team of hurricane forecasters, led by senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski, cited a weak La Niña that’s expected to persist through the start of the season and warmer than normal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and Southeast coast.

Above average water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean factored into last year’s hurricane season, and ocean temperatures still are relatively warm now, said Towle, of the Village of La Belle.

“We didn’t have an overly cold winter in Florida, though we had bouts of cold weather,” he said. “But the Atlantic has maintained its warmth.”

La Niña is a climate phase that occurs when sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are cooler than normal and low-level surface winds are stronger than normal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. It is one of three phases of a cycle known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO.

Forecasters observed La Niña as an influence in the prolific storm activity in each of the last two hurricane seasons, as it weakens the wind shear over the Caribbean and tropical Atlantic to allow hurricanes to strengthen, according to NOAA.

In a presentation announcing the Colorado State forecast, Klotzbach said he thinks the conditions he is forecasting for 2022 look most similar to last year’s season because of tropical weather that ranges from near average to warm and the presence of a neutral to weak La Niña.

What It Means for Florida

Although long-range outlooks don’t predict where the storms go, the odds suggest 2022 will be stormy for the Sunshine State, Klotzbach said. He gave a 96% chance of at least one tropical storm, 75% chance of at least one hurricane and 44% chance of at least one major hurricane making landfall in Florida.

When the number of storms that could potentially form is high, the chance is stronger that Florida will feel an impact from at least one of them, Towle said.

“I’d be more over-cautious this year than we have been the last few years,” he said.

Despite record hurricane activity in 2020 and 2021, Central Florida came out unscathed.

But Floridians should not be complacent about the hurricane season because of the state’s noted vulnerability to hurricanes. 

From 1851 to 2019, there were 292 hurricanes with direct hits on the Atlantic coastline from Texas to Maine. Of those, 120 hurricanes struck Florida, according to the NOAA.

Prepare Early

Newcomers to Florida, including Villagers who may not have experienced hurricanes before moving here, must be aware of the hazards.

“We just never know what’s going to happen, whether it’s weather-related or some other type of hazard that impacts us,” said David Casto, Sumter County emergency management director. “Preparation is like getting insurance for your car — you don’t expect to get in an accident, but it happens.”

In The Villages, where golf courses were inundated with floodwaters following Hurricane Irma, the District government has a hurricane and severe weather plan that details how they prepare for and respond to major storms.

The District’s plan emphasizes continuity of services to minimize weather-related disruptions, said Bruce Brown, assistant District manager.

For example, The Villages’ flood control system before, during and after a storm involves running sprinklers in anticipation of heavy rainfall. That includes intentional flooding of golf courses and other green spaces to minimize any residential or commercial flooding. 

“In an average year as many as 10 hurricanes will sweep through the Caribbean and/or the Atlantic Coast with the potential of impacting The Villages,” Brown said. “Major storms wreak extensive damage to the infrastructure of the impacted area, thus our (plan) allows for continued operations in an extreme emergency situation where normal District operating assets are damaged, inaccessible or otherwise unusable.” 

As for residents, preparations for the season should include organizing a plan for what to do in a weather emergency and assembling an emergency supply kit that includes essential items like batteries, flashlights, a weather alert radio and/or battery powered radio and at least a week’s worth of food and water for each person, according to Towle and Casto.

Planning now versus planning when a storm is forecast to approach makes the difference in emergency readiness, Casto said.

“Some people wait until the last minute, and that’s when they won’t be successful in getting the supplies they need or making decisions in a timely manner,” he said. “Don’t get caught shorthanded when you need to react, prepare and respond.”

Villagers who want to learn more about hurricane preparedness may consider attending The Villages Hurricane Expo, scheduled for May 6 at Savannah Center. The Hurricane Expo, organized by The Villages Public Safety Department, is returning for the first time since 2019 after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellations of the last two years’ expos.

Senior writer Michael Salerno can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5369, or michael.salerno@thevillagesmedia.com.