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After ‘insane’ 2015 hurricane season, Pacific expected to be tamer

  • COURTESY KEVIN KODAMA/ CENTRAL PACIFIC HURRICANE CENTER

    This graphic, created by the National Weather Service, consists of infrared satellite images for each of the 15 tropical cyclones in the 2015 hurricane season when the cyclone was active in the Central North Pacific basin.

Last year, spurred on by El Nino, a near- record number of storms raged across the Eastern Pacific Ocean, including Patricia, the strongest hurricane recorded in the Western Hemisphere.

With El Nino fading, this year’s East Pacific season, which starts Sunday, probably won’t be as explosive.

Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan, described 2015 as “insane.” From the International Dateline to Mexico’s coast, 26 storms strengthened enough to receive names — one below the 1992 record — and 16 became hurricanes, tying a record.

“The action in 2016 should be less intense, thanks to cooler sea-surface temperatures,” he said.

Hurricanes on the eastern side of the Pacific, called typhoons on the other side, are closely watched because the region includes the ports of Lazaro Cardenas and Manzanillo, among Mexico’s busiest, and the resorts of Cabo San Lucas and Acapulco.

Hawaii Outlook

Then there is Hawaii, “which has been under the gun during the past two hurricane seasons, with one direct hit and a number of close calls,” Masters said. The parade of storms past the island state was unusual and probably won’t continue into 2016.

The Central Pacific hurricane season, which includes the area around Hawaii, starts on June 1.

El Nino, a warming of the equatorial Pacific, is blamed for creating conditions that get storms spinning across the basin last year. In recent months, the ocean’s surface has been cooling, with temperatures in the area between Hawaii and Mexico already about 2 degrees Fahrenheit lower than a year ago, Masters said.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology on Tuesday declared El Nino just about dead, and the agency puts the odds of a La Nina, a cooling of the ocean’s surface, at about 50 percent for the rest of the year.

Last Friday, Mexico’s Servicio Meterologico Nacional forecast that this season would bring 17 named storms, five of them hurricanes and four major systems with winds of 111 miles per hour or more, for the coastal Mexico region.

Coastal Mexico

Seventeen storms would be two more than the 30-year average for the area. In 2015, it saw 18 named storms. Thirteen turned into hurricanes and nine became major systems.

A tropical system receives a name when its cyclonic winds reach 39 mph. A hurricane has a top sustained speed of 74 mph, and major storms — Categories 3 through 5 — have winds strong enough to snap trees and blow houses apart.

So while this year may be less intense for the Eastern Pacific, no one should relax when a storm nears. It only takes one to ruin your year.

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