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Sea temperatures present storm uncertainty

Major damage: hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc across the Caribbean last year, while the US was also badly impacted by Harvey. Forecasters predict a near-normal hurricane season this year, but sea-surface temperature variations are causing some uncertainty

The North Atlantic hurricane season is predicted to be near-normal this year, but warmer sea-surface temperatures closer to the US and in the Gulf of Mexico are presenting some uncertainty.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria made last year’s hurricane season the most expensive in history, causing $230 billion of damage in the US and Caribbean. Insured losses were estimated at $80 billion by Aon Benfield’s Impact Forecasting team.

A number of agencies have presented predictions for how this year’s hurricane season might unfold, and sea-surface temperature variations point to a degree of uncertainty, particularly as there are warmer than average waters near the US mainland.

The hurricane season officially lasts from June 1 to November 30.

James Waller, a research meteorologist for Guy Carpenter, in a report, noted that predictions from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, UK Met Office and Colorado State University all suggest a near-normal hurricane season with around 12 to 14 named storms, of which six or seven are predicted to reach hurricane strength.

The NOAA noted uncertainty related to possible El Niño conditions and sea-surface temperatures through August to October — the peak of the hurricane season.

Mr Waller said key factors include cooler than average sea-surface temperatures in the far northern and eastern Atlantic and key areas of the Atlantic tropics and subtropics. He noted: “Sea-surface temperatures are warmer than average for areas adjacent to the US mainland and western Gulf of Mexico; this warrants some caution for potential development close to the mainland as the season unfolds.”