A third leading forecast is calling for an active hurricane season with a torrid Gulf of Mexico helping stoke storms.
The hiatus of robust winter cold fronts oozing out of the Arctic allowed Gulf water to warm as much as 4 degrees above normal, said Todd Crawford, a senior meteorologist with The Weather Channel, which released its hurricane forecast Thursday.
RELATED: HURRICANE MICHAEL: Most dramatic photos
Its prediction for the season that begins June 1 includes 18 named storms, nine hurricanes and four major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.
That’s more bullish than Colorado State University, which called for 16 named storms – only the fifth time in 26 years that CSU has predicted at least 16 named systems. It’s also at the high end of AccuWeather’s seasonal forecast of between 14 and 18 named systems.
RELATED: A year after Hurricane Michael, housing remains a challenge
An average storm season has 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
Crawford said The Weather Channel considered upping its storm numbers even higher considering the sultry waters of the Gulf, Caribbean and parts of the Atlantic, and may update them next month as the season gets closer.
RELATED: THANKFUL: County, city officials reflect on the positive moments more than a year after catastrophic Hurricane Michael
"The wildcard is if we get a La Niña or not," Crawford said. "There is still a lot of uncertainty, but the ocean temperatures are a slam dunk it’s going to be pretty warm."
Much of the Gulf of Mexico is about 4 degrees warmer than normal, while the tropical Atlantic temperatures are 1.5 to 3 degrees above normal.
"If you look at the temperature anomalies across the entire globe, the anomalies are highest in the Gulf of Mexico and that’s really spectacular," said Crawford, adding that climate change is contributing to an increase in ocean temperatures. "That’s something we haven’t seen before."
January through March temperatures along the Gulf Coast from Texas through Florida were all much above average, with Florida seeing it’s hottest first three months of the year on record. The warm winter in the southeast was partly the result of a record-strong Arctic Oscillation, which steel-belts the jet stream at northern latitudes, trapping colder air above it.
A positive Arctic Oscillation also forces the jet stream into a more orderly straight line that helps contain the frigid polar vortex as opposed to an undulating pattern that would allow Arctic air to seep south.
While warm waters alone aren’t enough to create more hurricanes, they do feed developing cyclones.
Hurricane Michael dug into Florida’s Panhandle in 2018 as a Category 5 after twice hitting warm pools that shot adrenaline into its core and caused bouts of rapid intensification.
"The extreme warmth in the Gulf of Mexico is not going to increase landfall odds along the Gulf Coast, but if you do get storms there, they will be more intense most likely," Crawford said.
No El Niño and a possible La Niña are not good signs
Another signal it could be a busier-than normal hurricane season is the lack of an El Niño and higher expectations that a La Niña could develop during the peak of hurricane season — August through October. While an El Niño tends to reduce tropical systems with higher wind shear, a La Niña is more conducive to burgeoning systems. A neutral condition is currently in place with a 60 percent chance it will remain through summer, according to the Climate Prediction Center.
"Seasonal forecasts models, especially those from NASA, NOAA and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, have leaned increasingly toward the development of a La Niña event later this year," noted Bob Henson, a meteorologist and writer for Weather Underground. "The long-range outlook from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) is calling for neutral conditions."
Climate signals of the upcoming hurricane season closely resemble 2010, according to The Weather Channel forecast. That year had 19 named storms and two unnamed tropical depressions.
But, notably, only one — Tropical Storm Bonnie — made landfall in the U.S., hitting near Elliot Key in Biscayne National Park on July 23. Tropical Storm Hermine made landfall on the northeastern coast of Mexico in early September 2010 bringing tropical-storm-force winds and heavy rains to southern Texas.