The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued their 2011 Atlantic hurricane season outlook in a press release May 19, and it’s not good news for Texas or the rest of the coastal United States. 2011 is expected to be a very active season with 12 to 18 named storms compared to a long-term average of 11 per season.
Very warm sea surface temperatures and weak wind shear from a lingering La Nina are the primary factors influencing this outlook, with a multi-decade active cycle a secondary factor.
The Atlantic Basin has seen generally enhanced activity since the mid 1990’s because of a 20-30 year cycle of ocean heat exchange, and while this alone does not drive an active season, it enhances one in combination with these other factors.
The NOAA outlook calls for:
12 to 18 named tropical cyclones (winds of 39 mph or higher)
6 to 10 hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher)
3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher)
NOAA undersecretary Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D. made the following comment about last year’s busy season: “the United States was fortunate last year. Winds steered most of the season’s tropical storms and all hurricanes away from our coastlines…However we can’t count on luck to get us through this season. We need to be prepared, especially with this above-normal outlook.”
Gerry Bell, Ph.D., a lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, was quoted in the NOAA press release as saying this could be one of the more active seasons since the 1995 enhanced-season period began.
The last major hurricane to affect Texas was devastating Hurricane Ike that made landfall just north of Galveston in September 2008, causing $27 billion in damage and 82 deaths. Tropical Storm "Hermine" brought devastating flooding and numerous tornadoes to Texas last year and it never even made it to hurricane status.
Texoma would primarily face a flooding threat from a landfalling hurricane or tropical storm, but as we saw with "Hermine" in September 2010, tornadoes can also be a danger with weakening tropical cyclones over land.