(10:29 a.m. EDT) -- Along with longer days and weekend picnics in the park, summer also brings the Atlantic hurricane season and the potential for damaging storms. The season, which officially runs from June 1 to November 30, poses risks, not just to shoreside residents but also to cruise itineraries. Though last year's Atlantic hurricane season resulted in virtually no cruise changes, 2012's season saw well over 100 itinerary changes.
For 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Climate is predicting a near-normal or below-normal Atlantic season, according to its annual outlook. The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
Specifically, NOAA is forecasting a 70 percent likelihood of eight to 13 named storms (winds of 39 mph or more), of which three to six could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or more). Of the hurricanes, one or two are anticipated to become major storms (category 3, 4 or 5: winds of 111 mph or more). The seasonal average collected by NOAA from 1981 to 2010 is 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.
According to the NOAA outlook, the main climatic factor driving the relatively quiet nature of the season is El Nino, which causes stronger wind shear. Such wind shears reduced the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes. El Nino also can strengthen the trade winds and generally increase the atmospheric stability of the tropical Atlantic. This makes it more difficult for cloud systems coming from Africa, which is where most storms begin, to strengthen into tropical storms.
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.
NOAA's hurricane outlook is not a hurricane landfall forecast.
Predictions aren't always accurate. While 2012's storm season forecast came in a bit too low, 2013's came in way too high. There were 14 named storms in 2013, of which two were hurricanes. It was the first Atlantic hurricane season since 1994 to feature no major hurricanes and the first since 1968 to feature no storms greater than a Category 1 in intensity. In May 2013, NOAA predicted an above-average season with 13 to 20 named storms, of which seven to 11 could become hurricanes, including three to six major hurricanes.
Stay tuned to Cruise Critic's Hurricane Zone cruising updates all season long.
--By Dori Saltzman, News Editor