AUSTIN (KXAN) — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its seasonal hurricane forecast on Thursday. Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1.

NOAA is calling for a “near-normal” season similar to last year, following six consecutive busier-than-normal seasons 2016-2021.

NOAA 2023 Atlantic hurricane season predictions

  • Tropical storms: 12-17 (average: 14)
  • Hurricanes: 5-9 (average: 7)
  • Major hurricanes: 1-4 (average 3)
2023 Atlantic hurricane name list
2023 Atlantic hurricane name list

This is largely in line with the widely-respected Colorado State University seasonal hurricane forecast released Apr. 13, which calls for a slightly quieter than normal season with 13 tropical storms, 6 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. CSU forecasters will update their predictions Jun. 1 when the season begins.

Though a slightly quieter hurricane season may sound like good news for those who like to travel to the Texas coast or own property in that area, this season brings an enormous amount of uncertainty. In fact, there has never been an Atlantic hurricane season quite like this one.

Factors in play

An El Niño pattern in the eastern Pacific Ocean is imminent, as sea surface temperatures near the Equator are rapidly warming. This year’s El Niño may be unusually strong.

Sea surface temperature anomalies in the Pacific, showing very warm water in the eastern Equatorial Pacific
Sea surface temperature anomalies in the Pacific. Note the very warm water in the eastern Equatorial Pacific (NOAA)

When an El Niño pattern is present in the Pacific, this often makes conditions more difficult for Atlantic hurricanes to form — leading to a quieter hurricane season.

But this year, that storm-killing effect is in a tug-of-war with extremely warm water in the Atlantic, which acts like jet fuel for developing hurricanes.

Which factor will win out? Only time will tell.

Gulf of Mexico unaffected by El Niño’s hurricane hostility

It is also important to note that El Niño’s hurricane-suppressing effects do not extend into the Gulf of Mexico.

“In general, the effect of El Niño on wind shear and subsidence is limited to the tropics, so equatorward of 20°[N] or so,” University of Miami Senior Research Associate Brian McNoldy told KXAN in an e-mail. “The Gulf is almost entirely north of that, so it doesn’t really experience that teleconnection.”

Though Texas was spared a direct hit last year, Florida experienced the fifth-deadliest hurricane in the modern era. Hurricane Ian ravaged the southwestern part of Florida, killing at least 145 people.

Along the Texas coast, hurricanes are more likely to strike during the first half of the season — from June through September. Later in the fall, dips in the jet stream tend to pick up tropical systems and bend them east of our area.

Colorado State University forecasters are calling for a 63% likelihood that Texas is hit by a tropical storm this year, and a 38% chance of a hurricane strike — both 2% higher odds than a typical year. The chance of a major hurricane hitting the Texas coast is 16%.

The last major hurricane landfall in Texas was Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 25, 2017. 130-mile-per-hour winds caused widespread, significant damage in Rockport, Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, and historic rainfall led to deadly flooding in Houston.

The Texas coast typically sees a hurricane landfall once every 13 years, and a major hurricane (category 3 or stronger) landfall every 31 years. As climate change leads to warmer ocean temperatures and more moisture-laden air, however, storms are rapidly intensifying more often, moving more slowly, and producing more rainfall.