(May 20, 2013, 12:25 p.m. EDT) -- Along with long, sunny evenings and weekend barbecues, summer also brings the Atlantic hurricane season and the potential for violent and damaging storms. The season, which officially runs from June 1 to November 30, poses risks, not just to shoreside residents but to cruise itineraries as well. Last year's hurricane season resulted in more than 100 cruise itinerary changes.
For 2013, AccuWeather is predicting an above-normal season, according to its annual preseason report released last week.
Specifically, AccuWeather is forecasting 24 named storms (winds of 39 miles per hour or more), of which eight could become hurricanes (winds of 74 m.p.h. or more). Of the hurricanes, four are anticipated to become major storms (category 3, 4 or 5: winds of 111 m.p.h. or more.) The seasonal average, based on data collected by NOAA from 1981 to 2010, is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
Stronger storms in general are predicted, with most hurricanes rating a category 2 or higher.
According to the AccuWeather release, several climatic factors will drive the active nature of the season. These include the presence of warm water across the Atlantic and Caribbean; less frequent wind shears (higher wind shear can limit storm intensification); and less Saharan dust (which can stifle a storm's development).
Peak periods vary geographically; in the Eastern Caribbean and along the U.S. East Coast, the season tends to be busiest between mid-August and mid-September. In the Western Caribbean, it picks up in mid-September and stretches into early November.
This year, though, predictors say there is a good chance the season will start early with hurricanes developing in the Caribbean in June. Last year, the first two tropical storms of the season hit in late May, before the official start to the season. Should storms begin brewing in June, AccuWeather forecasters say the total for the season might be higher than now anticipated.
Predictions aren't always accurate; 2012's storm season forecast came in a bit too low, for instance. There were 19 named storms in 2012, of which 10 were hurricanes affecting cruises and Caribbean and U.S. destinations alike. In May 2012, NOAA predicted a "near normal" season with nine to 15 named storms, of which four to eight could become hurricanes.
Stay tuned to Cruise Critic's Hurricane Zone cruising updates all season long.
--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor