Forecasters watch La Niña for hurricane season clues

U.S. National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center graphic Chart shows the annual fluctuation between cooler La Niña and warmer El Niño

The first estimates of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season will not be out until early next month, but one fact is clear. The current La Niña conditions of colder water in the Pacific is moving toward a neutral condition, according to the U.S. National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.

Patch worn by those who fly into hurricanes.

The above- or below-average temperature in the Pacific is a key component for the prediction of hurricanes.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1. Emergency officials are gearing up. The predictions by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as the Tropical Research Center at Colorado State University serve as guides.

The Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Air Force Reserve have embarked on a series of visits to encourage residents to prepare for the 2012 hurricane season. Bill Read, director of the administration’s U.S. National Hurricane Center, and a WC-130J Hurricane Hunter aircraft will be in Costa Rica today and tomorrow. The visit today is at the Limón airport. Thursday they will be at Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela.

The public is being invited to visit the aircraft and talk to the crew members. These are the individuals who fly their planes into hurricanes to obtain vital scientific data.

The reservists are from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, 403rd Wing, Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Mississippi.

“We are in an active hurricane era,” said Read in a news release. “While 2011 was not as catastrophic as recent seasons, the Caribbean and Latin America still experienced tragic loss of life from flooding caused by hurricanes. This tour is an opportunity for us to educate coastal communities about what they need to do to prepare for a hurricane. Preparation will reduce the human and economic toll.”

Read’s hurricane center analyzes the data from the hurricane hunter aircraft and from satellites to predict the force, direction and possible landfall of tropical storms. Although hurricanes seldom hit Costa Rica, the extended effects can be devastating.

During the 2011 hurricane season, the Weather Reconnaissance Squadron flew 88 missions and 13 investigative flights over the Atlantic for the center. It also flew four missions over the eastern North Pacific, said the news release.

Neither the hurricane center nor Colorado State University has firm predictions for what may happen during the Atlantic season that ends Nov. 30.

However, the U.S. National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center said Monday that La Niña has weakened across the tropical Pacific and the sea surface temperatures remain at least 0.5 degrees C below average in the central Pacific, but have warmed considerably across the east-central and eastern Pacific Ocean over the last month.

La Niña is expected to transition in a neutral condition by the end of April, it added.

The Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University involves William Gray and Phil Klotzbach. They will be making their first prediction early next month.

Their predictions are based on the temperature in the Pacific and the Atlantic thermohaline circulation, the marine conveyor belt that creates currents throughout the ocean.

In December they gave four scenarios based on what conditions might exist in April. They said if no El Niño or above average temperatures in the Pacific develops there could be 12 to 15 named tropical storms this season.

Of these, they estimated seven to nine would be hurricanes and three or four would be major storms.

Their scenarios ranged from one with no or just one major hurricane to four to five major storms.

The Pacific has a hurricane season, too, and that starts May 15. Storms there can bring heavy rains and flooding to western Costa Rica.

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