This year's Atlantic hurricane season will probably be about normal or below normal, according to the 2014 outlook issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center.
NOAA predicts a 70 percent chance for eight to 13 named storms to develop during the season, which runs June 1 through Nov. 30. Of the named storms, which have winds of at least 39 mph, three to six could become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher, including one to two major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.
The seasonal average from 1981 to 2010 is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. The Atlantic has been in an era of high hurricane activity since 1995.
NOAA's seasonal hurricane outlook does not predict how many hurricanes will hit land or where a storm will strike. The administration's National Hurricane Center forecasts individual storms and their impacts throughout the season.
The expected development of El Niño this summer is driving the outlook, which calls for a 50 percent chance of a below-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season and only a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season. El Niño causes stronger wind shear, which reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes. The phenomenon can also strengthen the trade winds and increase atmospheric stability across the tropical Atlantic, which makes it more difficult for cloud systems coming off of Africa to develop into tropical storms, the NOAA said.
"Even though we expect El Niño to suppress the number of storms this season, it's important to remember it takes only one land falling storm to cause a disaster," NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said in a press release.
This year the NOAA is rolling out an experimental mapping tool to show communities their storm surge flood threat. The map will be issued for coastal areas when a hurricane or tropical storm watch is first issued, or about 48 hours before the anticipated onset of tropical storm force winds. The map will show land areas where storm surge could occur and how high above ground the water could reach in those areas.
The NOAA said early testing on continued improvements to its Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting model shows a 10 percent improvement in this year's model compared to last year. Hurricane forecasters use it along with other models to produce forecasts and issue warnings.