National Press Club

Don't expect a calmer hurricane season this year, NOAA expert says

March 6, 2019 | By Justin Duckham | justinjduckham@gmail.com

Dr. Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the NOAA National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center discusses the development of hurricanes over the Atlantic Ocean at a National Press Club Headliners Newsmaker on Tuesday.

Dr. Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the NOAA National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center discusses the development of hurricanes over the Atlantic Ocean at a National Press Club Headliners Newsmaker on Tuesday.

Photo/Image: Al Teich

This year's hurricane season is not expected to be any milder than the previous year’s, according to the lead seasonal hurricane forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“We’re still in a high activity era,” Dr. Gerry Bell said at a National Press Club Headliners Newsmakers Tuesday. He said hurricane activity can generally be determined by looking at dominant climate patterns that can last for decades.

“We’ve been averaging three to four major hurricanes a year since 1995 and as of last year, there’s no indication that that high activity period has ended,” he said

Climate change remains “one of the things of interest” regarding hurricane forecasts, Bell said. “These are very powerful climate patterns, but they’re not necessarily acting alone.” He said ocean temperatures was one variable that could affect long-term trends.

NOAA will provide a formal preseason outlook in May, well before peak hurricane season hits between August through October, he said.

Regardless of what the final assessment may look like, however, Bell emphasized that preparation is vital.

“You’ve got to prepare for every hurricane season regardless of the seasonal outlook,” Bell said. “We all know hurricanes strike in less active seasons and in more active seasons.”

This is something that has grown more dire in recent years, particularly, as Bell pointed out, with populations in coastal areas continuing to rise.

D. Jeremy Gregory, a research scientist at MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Materials Systems Laboratory, joined Bell at the panel.

Jumping off concerns posed by population growth, Gregory stressed that long-term solutions to preparedness are needed, including a market-wide effort to adopt more hurricane resilient buildings.

“As a society, we don’t generally invest much in hazard mitigation,” Gregory said, explaining that emergency response funding far outpaces that for preparation.

Beyond just ensuring individuals’ safety, Gregory said that a massive shift toward more structurally sound buildings will ultimately bring long-term financial benefits, since repairs and reconstruction will be sharply reduced.