Forecasters are starting to release their forecasts for the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season, and thanks in part to a predicted El Niño, the results are not surprising. The predictions may spell good news for wary coastal residents.

Popular weather forecasting outlet WeatherBug released its official 2014 hurricane forecast for the Atlantic Ocean in a webinar this afternoon.

WeatherBug predicts 8-12 named storms, 3-5 of which may become hurricanes, and 1-3 of those hurricane may become major hurricanes (category 3 or stronger), according to the webinar presented by WeatherBug Senior Meteorologist John Bateman.

A tropical storm has winds between 39 and 74 MPH. A hurricane has winds greater than 74 MPH. A "named storm" includes both tropical storms and hurricanes.

The company has a good amount of confidence in its named storm forecast, but medium and low-to-medium confidence in its forecast for the number of hurricanes and major hurricanes, respectively.

The 30-year average for the Atlantic is 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes, and 3 of which become major hurricanes.

Some of the factors that could stifle the hurricane season include:

  • The growing likelihood of a moderate El Niño will likely stifle tropical activity in the Atlantic. El Niño is an abnormal warming of water in the eastern Pacific will create thunderstorms that produce westerly wind shear. Wind shear spells death for tropical cyclones, and even modest shear can knock the tops off of storms and prevent a cyclone from developing.
  • Cooler than normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic.
  • Growing odds of below-normal precipitation over sub-Saharan Africa, which serves two blows to the hurricane season: first, a good number of classic tropical cyclones start from disturbances coming off of the west coast of Africa. If there are a low number of disturbances, it cuts down the number of cyclones. Second, a lack of rain over sub-Saharan Africa leads to an increased chance for blowing dust and dry air over the Atlantic, which was a big issue last year and may have contributed to a lack of tropical systems.

Colorado State University released its renowned hurricane forecast last month, calling for below-average activity in the Atlantic basin. Drs. Philip Klotzbach and William Gray predict that only 9 named storms will form this year, 3 of which may reach hurricane status, and one of those hurricanes reaching major hurricane status.

NOAA released its official hurricane outlook this morning, in which they called for 50% chances of below-average activity in the Atlantic, and 40% odds that it will be near average.

It's important to remember that it only takes one landfalling storm to create a disaster of epic proportions. 1992 was a quiet year for tropical activity — the first named storm of the year didn't even form until mid-August.

That storm, however, was Hurricane Andrew; a category 5 that slammed in southeastern Florida and the Gulf Coast, becoming one of the worst natural disasters in American history.

[Image via NASA]

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