(August 6) -- After two months of storm-free Caribbean cruising -- and one of the slowest starts to the Atlantic Hurricane season on recent record -- weather forecasters are scrambling to revisit their storm outlooks.
In a report issued this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) downgraded its initial predictions for the season by nearly a quarter. The new outlook calls for 7 to 11 named storms, down from an original assessment of 9 to 14. Earlier this week, the well-known Colorado State University storm research team, led by storm watcher William Gray, also lowered its initial prediction from 11 named storms to 10, four of which are expected to strengthen into hurricanes.
The 2009 Atlantic Hurricane Season, which officially runs from June 1 to November 30, has so far produced zero named storms and no tropical weather-caused cruise itinerary changes.
The reason for the calm kick-off to the storm season? El Nino.
In recent weeks, forecasts for the return of El Nino -- the eastern Pacific warm-water phenomenon experts believe tends to suppress Atlantic hurricane season activity -- have proven accurate, according to a NOAA press release. "El Nino continues to develop and is already affecting upper-level atmospheric pressure and winds across the global tropics," Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, is quoted as saying. "El Nino produces stronger upper-level westerly winds over the Caribbean Sea and tropical Atlantic Ocean, which help to reduce hurricane activity by blowing away the tops of growing thunderstorm clouds that would normally lead to tropical storms."
Keep in mind, however, that the historical peak to the season stretches from August to October -- and that there's still plenty of time for Mother Nature to brew up trouble in the Caribbean and elsewhere. In an official statement, NOAA noted that the calm start to this hurricane season is "not a reliable indicator" of overall activity for the entire season. For example, the 1992 Atlantic hurricane season had a below-normal number of named storms and hurricanes. But even though the first storm -- Hurricane Andrew -- did not form until late August, it hit southern Florida as a destructive Category Five storm.
Meanwhile, the Pacific Hurricane season has been brisk with six named storms so far (that season began on May 15). The storms' effect on cruise travel has been limited, however. Only Hurricane Andres impacted cruises, with Carnival Cruise Lines tweaking a single Mexican Riviera voyage to avoid the storm.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor