Atlantic May Spawn as Many as 19 Storms as El Nino Odds Fade

(Bloomberg) -

The Atlantic hurricane season will probably end with an above-average 14 to 19 named storms that can rattle energy and agriculture markets now that it is almost certain a system-deterring Pacific El Nino won’t arrive.

At least 5 to 9 will become hurricanes with 2 to 5 becoming major systems with winds of 111 miles (179 kilometers) per hour or more, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday. Storms are named when their winds reach 39 mph. In May, the agency said 11 to 17 storms would form.

“There is a possibility now that the season will be extremely active,” said Gerry Bell, lead hurricane seasonal forecaster at the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. “We are now entering the historical peak months of the season. This three month period is when the bulk of hurricanes occur.

El Nino, marked by a warming in the equatorial Pacific, can have a big influence on Atlantic storms. The phenomenon increases wind shear in the smaller ocean, which can tear apart tropical systems.

The Earth’s most powerful storms can threaten lives, destroy property and move global energy and agricultural markets. An estimated $28.3 trillion worth of homes, businesses and infrastructure is vulnerable to hurricane strikes in the 18 U.S. Atlantic coastal states, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

Florida is particularly vulnerable to hurricane strikes. And while dangerous winds can threaten life and property, heavy rains form storms can help crops, as was the case with Tropical Storm Emily last month.

Storms that enter the Gulf of Mexico can have major impacts on oil and natural gas operations. Offshore drilling in the Gulf accounts for about 4.1 percent of gas production, according to the Energy Information Administration. In June, relatively weak Tropical Storm Cindy managed to shut down 17 percent of Gulf oil output and forced evacuations of rigs and production platforms.

The tropical Atlantic is about 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 to 1.1 Celsius) warmer than normal, which can spur on hurricane development, Bell said. Tropical storms and hurricanes draw strength from warm water.

“They aren’t the warmest temperatures on record but they are certainly sufficient,” Bell said. “These conducive conditions are in place and we expect them to persist.”

While forecasters initially believed an El Nino would form this year, they subsequently lowered the odds. Based on that and other factors, Colorado State University last week increased its seasonal forecast to 16 storms, eight of which could become hurricanes and three major systems.

Starting around Aug. 20, the Atlantic enters its most active phase that lasts about six weeks. The statistical peak of the season is Sept. 10.

An average hurricane season produces 12 storms between June 1 to Nov. 30. So far this year, the basin has produced six systems.