Hurricane season activity expected to ramp up, be busiest since 2012

Story highlights

  • NOAA update to it's 2016 forecast increases the number of storms expected
  • Hurricane season has been above average so far, with 5 named storms; season peaks in September

(CNN)Even as the United States' "major hurricane drought" continues, NOAA's updated 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook, which was released Thursday, is calling for this year to be the "strongest since 2012."

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The decision to increase the number of expected named storms, from 10-16 in the outlook released in late May, to 12-17 in the latest outlook, isn't entirely unexpected. The update comes about 40% through the hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30, and the activity has been above average to date with five named storms, of which two have become hurricanes. On average the Atlantic would not have five named storms until the end of August, and we would not normally see the second hurricane until August 28 (Earl became the second hurricane on August 3).
    But it is not just the early activity that has forecasters thinking the season will be above average. "We've raised the numbers because some conditions now in place are indicative of a more active hurricane season, such as El Niño ending, weaker vertical wind shear and weaker trade winds over the central tropical Atlantic, and a stronger west African monsoon," said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
    As with any forecast, especially long-range season forecasts like the hurricane outlook, there are a number of uncertainties. La Niña, which was expected to develop in the Pacific during the hurricane season, is now not looking as likely. In another update released Thursday, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center gave La Niña just over a 50% chance to develop -- and if it does -- it is expected to be weaker and begin later. This will mean little to no impact on this year's hurricane season in the Atlantic. La Niña generally favors above average hurricane activity in the Atlantic.
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    While summer is ending for many and school begins, the peak of hurricane season is still nearly a month away.
    Graph of hurricane season activity, showing the peak around September 10.
    NOAA is expecting the remainder of the season to contain seven to 12 named storms, of which three to six are expected to become hurricanes. Two to four of those hurricanes are expected to be major hurricanes, which means Category 3 or above, containing wind speeds greater than 111 mph.
    If one of those major hurricanes happens to hit the United States, it would be the first to do so since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and would end the longest period without a major hurricane hitting the country since records began in 1851.