NOAA predicts a 'near-normal' 2023 hurricane season El Niño is coming, which usually means fewer storms. But abnormally warm ocean water makes hurricanes more likely. It's a rare situation

NOAA predicts a 'near-normal' hurricane season. But that's not good news

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The forecast for the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season is in. Federal scientists are expecting a near-normal number of storms, but normal does not mean good. NPR's Rebecca Hersher explains why.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: There are between 12 and 17 named storms predicted, which includes both tropical storms and hurricanes. About half will be full-blown hurricanes, forecasters expect. That's close to normal, but a normal hurricane season is still a very dangerous hurricane season. Rick Spinrad leads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


RICK SPINRAD: It's time to prepare. Remember; it only takes one storm to devastate a community.

HERSHER: Last year was the poster child for this. It was very quiet throughout the summer, and then Hurricane Ian came barreling in and devastated Florida. And that's after multiple years of back-to-back storms hitting the U.S. In fact, this is the first time in eight years that NOAA hasn't predicted an above-average hurricane season. So that's a bit of good news. But it also means that there are many, many places where people are still trying to rebuild from a past storm while also preparing for this hurricane season. Deanne Criswell leads the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA.


DEANNE CRISWELL: Any time we have a community that is still going through a recovery from a previous storm, it just makes them that much more vulnerable.

HERSHER: This year's forecast also has extra uncertainty baked into it, scientists say. That's because of a strange confluence of events in the Atlantic. On one hand, the climate pattern known as El Nino will almost certainly begin in the coming months. El Nino causes wind conditions in the Atlantic that disrupt storms, so fewer hurricanes, but climate change is causing the ocean water to heat up. Right now the water in the Atlantic is abnormally warm and will stay that way this summer. And warmer water helps hurricanes form, so more hurricanes. Matthew Rosencrans is NOAA's lead hurricane season forecaster.


MATTHEW ROSENCRANS: That is definitely kind of a rare setup for this year. When we looked at it, we were like, wow, this is - there's a lot of uncertainty this year in the outlook.

HERSHER: Which is another reason to prepare for hurricane season no matter what the numbers say. That includes making a plan for evacuating and for prolonged power outages. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.


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