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Despite El Niño, NOAA Increases Hurricane Season Prediction

Hurricane Ernesto before making landfall in Mexico.
Hurricane Ernesto before making landfall in Mexico.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today that the chance for a more active than normal hurricane season has increased since it issued its first prediction in May.

NOAA is now predicting 12 to 17 named storms and five to eight hurricanes. Two or three of those could become major hurricanes. In May, NOAA had predicted 9 to 15 storms.

"We are increasing the likelihood of an above-normal season because storm-conducive wind patterns and warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures are now in place in the Atlantic," Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center, said in a statement. "These conditions are linked to the ongoing high activity era for Atlantic hurricanes that began in 1995. Also, strong early-season activity is generally indicative of a more active season."

This change comes as a bit of a surprise, because as we had noted, climatologists have been predicting that El Niño would be forming in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño usually means more wind shear, which makes it harder for hurricanes to form and strengthen. NOAA now believes that El Niño's influence won't be felt until later in the season.

NOAA's advice? We still have a long hurricane season ahead of us, "and now is the time to get ready."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.