Are Category 4 and 5 hurricane increasing globally? (Part II)

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:04 PM GMT on March 31, 2006

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In my blog for Monday, I opened the discussion of whether Category 4 and 5 hurricanes were increasing in number globally. Here's Part II of that discussion:

Northwest Pacific typhoon intensities questioned
The question of the integrity of the typhoon intensity data in the Northwest Pacific is critical, since this ocean basin accounts for fully 46% of the global Category 4 and 5 hurricanes since 1970. Dr. Gray and Dr. Knaff both question typhoon intensities measured by reconnaissance aircraft in the Northwest Pacific during the 1973-1986 period. The technique used to determine typhoon intensities during this period (the "Atkinson-Holliday" or AH technique), is thought to have significantly underestimated the maximum winds. Looking at a plot of all Category 4 and 5 activity since 1945 in the Northwest Pacific (Figure 6), one can that intense typhoons were about as common in the 1950s and 1960s as they were during 1990-2004, but took a major dip in the 1970s and 1980s during the period the AH technique was used. I asked Dr. Webster and Dr. Holland about the intense typhoon activity back in the 1950s and 1960s, and they argued that this activity was the result of high SSTs in the Northwest Pacific during that period. On his website, Kerry Emanuel argues that typhoon intensities were overestimated in the 1950s and 1960s. However, Knaff and Zehr (2006) make some convincing arguments that typhoon intensities during the 1973-1986 period were too low due to measurement error, and the number of Category 4 and 5 storms in the region have been roughly constant for the past 50 years. This paper has been accepted for publication in Weather and Forecasting, and will likely be published late this year. Dr. Knaff and Charles Sampson of the Naval Research Laboratory have performed a preliminary re-analysis of maximum typhoon intensities for the period 1966-1987 based on the Knaff and Zehr (2006) results, and this re-analysis will be presented at the upcoming 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology (April 24-28, 2006). They show that after correcting for the AH technique errors, the number of Category 4 and 5 typhoons during the 1966-1987 period increased by 1.5 per year, leaving only a slight upward trend in Category 4 and 5 typhoons during the period 1970 - 2004. The 16% increase in Category 4 and 5 typhoons found by Webster et al. during the past 15-year period is reduced to just 3%. Based on this new research, the results of Webster et al. may have to be modified. In particular, their global increase in storms from 1990-2004 compared to 1975-1989, as presented in that paper will be reduced from 57% to 42% if Dr. Knaff's typhoon re-analysis is accepted.


Figure 6. Number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the Northwest Pacific Ocean since reliable records began in 1945. Data taken from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center "best track" database. Typhoon intensities from the period 1973 - 1986 were estimated using the "Atkinson-Holliday" (AH) technique, which may have underestimated typhoon intensity.

Northeast Pacific
Dr. Gray formulates the reasonable hypothesis that if one compares global major hurricane activity for the most recent ten years (1995-2004) with the previous ten years (1985-1994), one should see a significant difference, since global surface temperatures increased about 0.4� C between the two periods. He shows that the number of Category 3-4-5 hurricanes stayed exactly the same between these two periods--218 for each time period--if one excludes the Atlantic. I tabulated the results for just Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, and the results were very similar--135 storms storms globally (excluding the Atlantic) from 1985-1994, and 142 for 1995-2004. As most of you are aware, the Atlantic has seen a big increase in the number of intense hurricane the past ten years. Dr. Gray attributes to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), a natural cycle I discussed in an earlier blog. Dr. Gray offers another comparison, but just for Category 4 and 5 storms. The most reliable comparison one can make is using data from the Northeast and Northwest Pacific from the past 20 years. This excludes the issues of dealing with the natural AMO cycles in the Atlantic, and the poor data quality in the other ocean basins. Again, the data show essentially no difference between time periods. Indeed, when looking at the plot of Category 4 and 5 hurricane for the Northeast Pacific--the ocean area off the west coast of Mexico (Figure 7), and responsible for 19% of the world's Category 4 and 5 hurricanes--one sees no increasing trend in recent years.


Figure 7. Number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the Northeast Pacific Ocean since reliable satellite intensity estimates began in 1970. Data taken from the National Hurricane Center "best track" database.

Atlantic
The Atlantic contributes only 9% of the world's Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, so is not much of factor when considering global numbers of these storms. Dr. Gray shows that the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic has remained constant when one compares numbers from the past 15 years with an earlier active period from 1950-1964. However, this is a poor comparison. The period 1950-1964 fell entirely within a time when the warm phase of the AMO dominated the Atlantic, and had significantly enhanced intense hurricane activity (see Figure 8). The period 1990-2004 includes five years from the cold phase of the AMO, when intense hurricane activity was significantly down. Thus, comparison of 1950-1964 with 1990-2004 in the Atlantic is poor. One should make the comparison between data from the 11 years from the most recent warm phase of the AMO (1995-2005), and the previous warm AMO period we have good data for (1944-1969). This comparison shows that Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic have increased by 60% in the past 11 years compared to the previous active period 1944-1969. One can make a similar comparison for the cold phase of the AMO, contrasting the years 1970-1982 with 1983-1994. This comparison show no increase in Category 4 and 5 hurricanes for the later period with warmer SSts. I asked Dr. Landsea about the 60% increase in Category 4 and 5 hurricanes during the most recent warm phase of the AMO, and he thought that at least part of the increase could be explained by inadequate information from the Hurricane Hunters during that period. He explained that during that time, it was common in intense hurricanes for the Hurricane Hunters to get close enough to the eye to fix the storm on radar, but not actually penetrate through the eyewall into the eye. Who can blame them! The older aircraft like the DC-6 used during that time period were not safe to fly into Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. Dr. Landsea is working on a re-analysis project for the entire Atlantic hurricane database, but has only made it to the 1930s, and hopes to have a more definitive answer on the intensities of hurricanes during the 1950-1969 period in a few years.



Figure 8. Number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean since reliable aircraft reconnaissance intensity estimates began in 1944. Data taken from the National Hurricane Center "best track" database and not corrected for any suspected biases. The warm AMO periods are associated with enhanced intense hurricane activity, and are thought to be part of a natural decades-long cycle that affects only the Atlantic Ocean (as far as hurricane activity is concerned).

Conclusion
So who's right? Given the uncertainties in estimating tropical cyclone intensity presented by Drs. Gray, Landsea, and Knaff, plus the very large disagreement with the theory of hurricane intensification, it is unlikely that the large 80% increase in Category 4 and 5 hurricanes found by Webster et al. is real. There does appear to be some increase, but it is likely much smaller. Many troubling questions need to be answered, such as why comparison of the most recent ten years (1995-2004) with the previous ten years (1985-1994) shows almost no increase in Category 4 and 5 storms globally, during a period when a substantial increase in SST occurred.

All the scientists involved in this debate have stated the need for a rigorous re-analysis of all historical tropical cyclone data. However, there is currently little funding for such work. Dr. Knaff told me that his typhoon re-analysis work was unfunded, and that he did it because he felt strongly that the results of Emanuel (2005) and Webster et al. were inaccurate and needed to be challenged. Dr. Landsea's reanalysis of Atlantic storms is funded, but something he can only devote time to when his duties at NHC allow him. Dr. Knaff wrote me, "While I realize there are plans to reanalyze the Atlantic, the West Pacific, Southwest Pacific, and Indian Ocean are all being done piece by piece as part of several unfunded projects with little general support. If people are going to use the data for global studies, then NOAA, NSF or some other entity should fund a global reanalysis." I agree completely! Before I am willing to conclude that Category 4 and 5 hurricanes are indeed showing a significant increase, I want to see the science done with a better dataset, and covering a longer period of time. The NOAA Office of Global Programs or National Science Foundation needs to step in and fund this research.

While Category 4 and 5 hurricanes may indeed be increasing in frequency globally, one cannot yet say that global warming is the cause. Webster et al. close with the sentence, "attribution of the 30-year trends to global warming would require a longer global data record and, especially, a deeper understanding of the role of hurricanes in the general circulation of the atmosphere and ocean, even in the present climate state." Furthermore, global warming cannot be cited as the cause of recent intense storms, such a Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Wilma, or Australia's Cyclone Larry and Cyclone Glenda.

Webster, Holland, and Curry have submitted another paper for publication titled, "Testing the Hypothesis that Greenhouse Warming is Causing a Global Increase in Hurricane Intensity". I'll be sure to review the paper when it comes out. In addition, earlier this month, the authors published another paper linking increasing SSTs to higher numbers of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. The paper was called, "Deconvolution of the Factors Contributing to the Increase in Global Hurricane Intensity", and I plan to say more about this paper in my next blog on the global warming-hurricane intensification debate. Later on this Spring, I'll also talk about the 2005 paper by Dr. Kerry Emmanuel of MIT in Nature that found increases in global hurricane duration and power dissipated due to increasing SSTs.

Be sure to tune in Tuesday, when the Colorado State University forecasting team founded by Dr. Bill Gray releases their updated 2006 hurricane season forecast.

Jeff Masters

References
Emanuel, K.A., "The dependence of hurricane intensity on climate", Nature, 326, 483-485, 1987.

Emanuel, K.A., "Increasing Destructiveness of Tropical Cyclones over the past 30 years, Nature, 436, 686-688, 4 August 2005.

Hoyos, C.D., P.A. Agudelo, P.J. Webster, and J.A. Curry, "Deconvolution of the Factors Contributing to the Increase in Global Hurricane Intensity", www.scienceexpress.org, 16 March 2006, 10.1126/science.1123560.

Knaff, J.A., and R.M. Zehr, "Reexamination of Tropical Cyclone Wind-Pressure Relationships", accepted to Weather and Forecasting, 2006.

Knutson, T.R., and R.E. Tuleya, "Impact of CO2-Induced Warming on Hurricane Intensity and Precipitation: Sensitivity to the Choice of Climate Model and Convective Parameterization," Journal of Climate 17, 18: 3477-3495, 2004. http://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/reference/bibliography/20 04/tk0401.pdf

Virmani, J.I., and R. H. Weisberg, "The 2005 hurricane season: An echo of the past or a harbinger of the future?", Geophysical Research Letters 33, L05707, 2006 doi:10.1029/2005GL025517.

Webster, P.J., G.J. Holland, J.A. Curry, and H.-R. Chang, "Changes in Tropical Cyclone Number, Duration, and Intensity in a Warming Environment", Science, 309, 1844,1846, 16 September 2005.





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63. MichaelSTL
5:37 PM CST on April 01, 2006
I will likely get significant severe weather tomorrow:

Local NWS (also, see Hazardous Weather outlook and Forecast Discussion as well)

Storm Prediction Center
Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
62. Levi32
2:34 PM AKST on April 01, 2006
Current surface map shows a 1013 mb low just north of Puerto Rico. The low is becoming disconnected with an old cold front that moved through a couple days ago.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26682
61. DAVIDKRZW
11:34 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
a 1013 mb low just NW of Puerto Rico
to 21n58w near a 1014 mb low continuing to 24n43w where a third
low sits along the trough near 22n47w. The trough is increasing
the pressure gradient to the N with an area of 20-25 kt winds


not a joke
60. Levi32
2:32 PM AKST on April 01, 2006
By the way, GOES EAST satellite has been put in Rapid Scan Mode, probably for the severe weather outbreak this afternoon, though it is not that big of an outbreak to have Rapid Scan Mode for.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26682
59. Levi32
2:26 PM AKST on April 01, 2006
Yes Michael I noticed that earlier. It might be too weak to pick up yet.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26682
58. Levi32
2:23 PM AKST on April 01, 2006
Here is an idea...if this system is in fact tropical, and it is not a very deep system, then it might not be affected by the shear high high up. The shear lower down is only 15-20 knots, so it might have a chance to survive.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26682
57. MichaelSTL
5:24 PM CST on April 01, 2006
This does not even have anything on it.
Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
56. Levi32
2:22 PM AKST on April 01, 2006
It may have circulation, but it is not a tropical system. It is cold core.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26682
55. MZT
11:20 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
It does have some low level circulation... but yes, the westerlies are clobbering it.
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54. Levi32
2:03 PM AKST on April 01, 2006
If you are thinking that this feature NE of Puerto Rico is a tropical disturbance, then you havn't checked the maps. There is 90 KNOTS OF SHEAR OVER IT!!!. There is absolutely no way beyond any stretch of the imagination that this thing is of tropical origin or has potential to be a tropical disturbance.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26682
53. RL3AO
10:35 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
Its got some convection, but I don't know about spin
52. grizzled
8:23 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
Interesting Feature north of Puerto Rico this Saturday afternoon.

Convection, spin.

Check the San Juan radar
51. MichaelSTL
12:41 PM CST on April 01, 2006
Cat 5? It says 75 mph... and no hurricanes will hit New York unless SSTs rise 10 degrees.

IT IS JUST A JOKE (along with AccuWeather's blizzard headline)!
Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
50. DAVIDKRZW
6:35 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
frist cat 5 storm of the year and it is going to hit new york as a cat 5 storm hehehe
49. MichaelSTL
12:10 PM CST on April 01, 2006
Yes, that is an April Fool's Day joke! By the way, the advisory I put up is from Tropical Storm Ana. Link
Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
48. globalize
6:08 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
MichaelSTL...two more weeks and you won't need to be April foolin'.
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47. MichaelSTL
12:03 PM CST on April 01, 2006
BULLETIN
HURRICANE ALBERTO ADVISORY NUMBER 1
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
11 AM AST SAT APR 1 2006

...FIRST HURRICANE ON RECORD IN APRIL FORMS TO THE
SOUTHWEST OF BERMUDA...

THE GOVERNMENT OF BERMUDA HAS ISSUED A HURRICANE WARNING FOR
BERMUDA.

AT 11 PM AST...0300Z...THE CENTER OF HURRICANE ALBERTO WAS
LOCATED NEAR LATITUDE 31.3 NORTH...LONGITUDE 66.0 WEST OR ABOUT
110 MILES...175 KM...SOUTHWEST OF BERMUDA.

ALBERTO IS MOVING TOWARD THE EAST-SOUTHEAST NEAR 10 MPH...17 KM/HR...AND
THIS MOTION IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE FOR THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS ARE NEAR 75 MPH...WITH HIGHER
GUSTS. SOME SLOW STRENGTHENING IS POSSIBLE DURING THE NEXT
24 HOURS.

WINDS OF 40 MPH EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 70 MILES...110 KM FROM THE
CENTER. THESE WINDS COULD SPREAD OVER BERMUDA LATER TONIGHT AND
MONDAY.

ESTIMATED MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE IS 992 MB...29.59 INCHES.

REPEATING THE 11 PM AST POSITION...31.3 N... 66.0 W. MOVEMENT
TOWARD...EAST-SOUTHEAST NEAR 10 MPH. MAXIMUM SUSTAINED
WINDS... 75 MPH. MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...992 MB.

FOR STORM INFORMATION SPECIFIC TO YOUR AREA...PLEASE MONITOR
PRODUCTS ISSUED BY YOUR LOCAL WEATHER OFFICE.

AN INTERMEDIATE ADVISORY WILL BE ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL HURRICANE
CENTER AT 2 PM AST...FOLLOWED BY THE NEXT COMPLETE ADVISORY
AT 5 PM AST...
Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
46. MichaelSTL
11:43 AM CST on April 01, 2006
Has anybody heard about Hurricane Alberto yet?

Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
45. MichaelSTL
10:26 AM CST on April 01, 2006
Yes!
Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
44. HurricaneMyles
4:24 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
The April Fools joke?
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
43. MichaelSTL
10:23 AM CST on April 01, 2006
AccuWeather says that a massive blizzard will strike.
Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
42. HurricaneMyles
4:21 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
What paticularly are you referring to on AccuWeather, MichaelSTL?
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
41. NONAME4
3:56 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
Cyclone eye do you know that hurricane help maintain Global heat balance by tranfering heat from the tropics to polar regions. Also they biological activity by mixing up the water in there wake.
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40. MichaelSTL
10:10 AM CST on April 01, 2006
AccuWeather
Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
39. DAVIDKRZW
4:08 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
MichaelSTL why link?
38. HurricaneMyles
4:01 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
Oh, I thought you were saying that the NHC believed that sat derived wind shear was over estimated. I think the model was taking into account the high level of upper atmospheric shear despite Epsilon not being effected since it lacked clouds in the upper atmosphere.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
37. MichaelSTL
9:58 AM CST on April 01, 2006
By the way, did anybody look at AccuWeather yet?
Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
36. MichaelSTL
9:50 AM CST on April 01, 2006
In the official report for Epsilon, it says in the forecast critiqe section, "The SHIPS model, which had even larger biases than the official
forecast, likely overestimated the actual shear directly over Epsilon."
Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
35. HurricaneMyles
3:44 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
I dont remember hearing that wind shear was lower over Eplison then estimated. As far as I knew Epsilon simply wasent deep enough, with convection into the upper levels of the atomsphere, to be affected by the high level wind shear which forecastors expected it to be affected by.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
33. MichaelSTL
9:38 AM CST on April 01, 2006
There may be evidence for a weaker jet stream: there have not been many strong (F4-F5)tornadoes which, along with other factors, need a strong jet stream in the last 6-7 years; the past two years have had only 1 F4-F5 tornado each (and weak F4s at that). Also, the increasing number of late season storms could mean that wind shear is dropping (remember that during Epsilon wind shear was found to have been overestimated; Epsilon was not as strange as some thought).
Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
32. Levi32
6:37 AM AKST on April 01, 2006
Cyclone how could more vapor change wind shear?
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26682
30. Levi32
6:34 AM AKST on April 01, 2006
Cyclone, higher SST's might slightly enhance a tropical cyclone's ability to survive wind shear, but it will not change wind shear values unless SST's become at least 10 degrees hotter.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26682
29. MichaelSTL
9:31 AM CST on April 01, 2006
The main cause of wind shear is the jetstream, which moves south in the winter; it is possible that global warming could weaken it because there will be less of a difference between the polar regions and the tropics (measured warming so far is most pronounced in the arctic regions). Also, I read that the number of South Atlantic storms could increase because of reduced wind shear from warming; however, this does not necessarily mean that it will also happen in the North Atlantic.
Member Since: February 22, 2006 Posts: 94 Comments: 32744
27. HurricaneMyles
3:33 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
They might cause that shift. There is no evidence either way because no one has studied it.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
26. Levi32
6:30 AM AKST on April 01, 2006
Cyclone there is no way that SST change can change the magnitude of wind shear. Wind shear changes with the passing seasons. In the winter, the upper level winds are much stronger, and the jet stream is farther south, causing lots and lots of shear. In the summer, the jet moves north and upper level winds weaken, leaving strong ridges over the tropics which generaly have low wind shear in them.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26682
24. HurricaneMyles
3:20 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
I doubt summer will be year long. The tilt of the Earth causes the seasons and I dont think even a warming of 10 degrees would cause winter to go away.

As much as you want to shout to the world that we will see year-long hurricane seasons in the Atlantic soon, there simply isnt any evidence to support it right now. And if we are going to have a year-long hurricane season it's going to be because of a fundamental shift in winds in the Atlantic, not because SST have gotten to a certain point.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
22. HurricaneMyles
3:03 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
Check out the wind shear map I provided. There isn't anywhere that wind shear is below 20kts. The low areas of wind shear are in the S. Hemisphere where it is summer going into fall. As fall and winter happen in the S. Hemisphere, windshear will rise there and it will begin to fall in the N. Hemisphere as we go into summer.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
20. HurricaneMyles
2:43 PM GMT on April 01, 2006
My point is wind shear is EVERYWHERE in the winter. The lowest area of windshear right now is 20kts, while the highest is over 100kts. A tropical cyclone simply cant develope in 20kt+ of windshear, which is present 99% of time during winter.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
18. louastu
4:03 AM GMT on April 01, 2006
We had some interesting weather here (here being Plainfield Indiana) a few hours ago. We were even placed under a tornado warning for a little bit. We didn't actually have a tornado here, but some areas to the East of Indianapolis did. In all there were 3 reports of tornadoes in Central Indiana, including 1 which knocked a loaded 18 wheeler off the road. Fortunately there have been no reports of any serious injuries with these storms so far.
17. HurricaneMyles
3:50 AM GMT on April 01, 2006
lol, jeffb.

But anyways, wind shear is just way too high over the Atlantic during the winter. A tropical cyclone cant develope in 20kt+ of wind shear, even if the SSTs are 90 degrees.
Member Since: January 12, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
16. jeffB
3:32 AM GMT on April 01, 2006
cyclonebuster,

What's up with that link (to the mint error page)? Are you saying that your tunnels would prevent mint errors? :-)
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15. ForecasterColby
2:34 AM GMT on April 01, 2006
That prediction was made by accuweather. I'm not really sure what they're looking at, since nothing I see shows any tendency towards New England - if anything, they point away.

Cyclone, SSTs are NOT the reason we don't have year round hurricane seasons. 1 degree of water temp increase would add 10% or so to storm totals, and they'd be somewhat stronger. Last year, most of the SSTs across the atlantic were 1-2C above normal, and we saw the result of that along with extremely favorable conditions otherwise.
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14. Hawkeyewx
7:58 PM CST on March 31, 2006
im wondering whats your take on a hurricane strike in southern new england.. talk in the local papers and weather anchor's are saying the probability is likely this upcoming hurricane season

There is a reason New England is hit by hurricanes so rarely. Even if the general late summer pattern is more conducive than usual it still takes a hurricane in the right place with a specific east coast/New England synoptic setup to get a hit. It is certainly possible there could be one this year, but anyone who says it is "likely" is really stretching it.
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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