As the curtain fell Thursday on the brutal show that was the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, some experts were already saying what nobody wants to hear: Next year could bring more of the same.
Of course it’s weather, so they qualify any predictions with the possibility that things could change. But at this point it looks like the same or similar conditions — warm ocean temperatures and low wind shear, or the opposing winds that prevent hurricanes from forming — that gave rise to this year’s assembly line of monster storms will still be in place next summer.
“My hunch is that we will see another active season in 2018, though we have little skill making such forecasts so far in advance,” said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the popular Weather Underground website. “My forecast is based on the idea that El Niño conditions will not be present next fall, as is often the case when we see a developing La Niña event the preceding winter.”
The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through Nov. 30 each year. The time frame is when hurricanes are most likely to form, but forecasters also routinely point out that storms can and do occasionally form out of season.
The 2017 season was the busiest since the mother of all years, 2005, federal officials noted in an end-of-season summary released Thursday. It also spawned the first and second major hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, to strike the continental U.S. since Hurricane Wilma struck southern Florida in 2005.
Like 2005, which was the second installment of a two-year hurricane onslaught, Masters said 2017 and 2018 could be a similar one-two punch. He expects near-record high global temperatures to continue to keep temperatures in the Atlantic well above average.
“Plus, hurricanes are like bananas — they come in bunches,” Masters said. “We saw hurricanes go bananas in 2004 [to] 2005, and it is reasonable to predict that me might see a similar 2-year spike in activity in 2017-2018.”
Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist and hurricane expert at AccuWeather, also said the possibility of a busy 2018 season is very real. Like Masters, Kottlowski also expects warmer than average temperatures to still be the reality.
“The conditions for tropical development won’t be quite as ideal [as 2017], however with the warm temperatures across the Atlantic Basin we have to assume there will be a better chance we’ll see an above-average number of storms across the Atlantic next year.”
The weather patterns known as El Nino and La Nina are also factors. Both refer to temperature phases of the massive stretch of the open Pacific along the equator and both affect the Atlantic hurricane season. El Niño typically brings stronger wind shear and as a result fewer hurricanes, while La Niña means weaker wind shear, leading to more hurricanes.
Kottlowski said the La Niña conditions that began to emerge this year and were currently in effect were expected to fade by the spring or summer of 2018 into a neutral weather pattern, which would still be more hospitable to tropical storm formation than if El Niño conditions were to develop, which at this point was not expected.
Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the Miami-based National Hurricane Center, the federal government’s hurricane forecasting headquarters, declined to make a prediction for 2018, saying the official hurricane season forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, will be released in late May.
“We have six months until the next season begins on June 1,” Feltgen said. “Use that time wisely. The farther we get from the last hurricane, the closer we get to the next one.”
The 2017 season was the seventh most active on record, according to the end-of-season summary released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“This was a hurricane season that wouldn’t quit,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, the acting NOAA administrator of NOAA.
Among the highlights was the fact 2017 spawned an incredible 10 storms in a row that would become hurricanes, a feat that hasn’t happened since 1893.
And one of the first hints that trouble was potentially lurking in the tropics was the emergence of a rare pre-season tropical storm, Arlene, in April.
In all, the Atlantic basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, would see 17 named storms and 10 hurricanes — six of which were major hurricanes.
Three of those major hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and Maria — made a U.S. landfall, while four other storms — Cindy, Emily, Philippe, and Nate — also hit the U.S.
Harvey turned America’s fourth largest city, Houston, into a lake.
Irma roared ashore in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm, inflicting widespread devastation in the Keys and significant damage in South Florida and throughout the state.
Maria, the season’s strongest storm and tenth-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, laid waste to Puerto Rico, pulverizing that U.S. territory’s infrastructure so badly that many residents were still without electricity over two months later.
Feltgen, Kottlowski, and Masters each said it’s not possible to accurately predict if the years beyond 2018 are likely to see busy, normal, or relatively quiet hurricane seasons.
“No, it is not possible,” Feltgen said. “That kind of long range science does not exist. The parameters that would influence the 2018 season do not real reveal itself until well in spring.”
But as hurricane experts continually say, it only takes one big storm. After all, Hurricane Andrew, which obliterated South Miami-Dade on Aug. 24, 1992, was that season’s first named storm.