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1 in 3 Chance of Major Tropical Storm in Connecticut

The official hurricane season for the Atlantic basin is from June 1 to Nov. 30, with peak activity blowing in around Sept. 10, and most of the activity swirling around the area between mid-August and mid-October.

Tropical storm
(TNS) - A Colorado State University team has predicted a strong hurricane season in 2024, with expectations that Connecticut has about a one in three chance of experiencing a named tropical storm off its coast this year.

The CSU Tropical Weather and Climate Research team prediction comes part in parcel with an overall prediction of an intense hurricane season for the Atlantic seaboard. The team estimates 23 named storms, 11 hurricanes and an overall 65 percent chance of landfall somewhere on the East Coast.

"This is a big one," said Levi Silvers, a climate researcher at Colorado State University. "All of the indicators we have are pointing towards this being a very active season."

Every year, two centers produce forecasts of the Atlantic hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and CSU try to estimate whether a hurricane season will be "normal," above or below average.

According to NOAA, the official hurricane season for the Atlantic basin is from June 1 to Nov. 30, with peak activity blowing in around Sept. 10, and most of the activity swirling around the area between mid-August and mid-October.

Silvers said that two factors were at play making the hurricane forecast particularly fraught this upcoming season. The first is that the tropical section of the Atlantic Ocean was experiencing record temperatures. Warm water is the fuel that drives hurricane formation. The second factor is that a La Niña system is developing, which makes it easier for hurricanes to form.

To put it in fire terms: it's like the forest has a ton of dead, dry wood, and it hasn't rained for a long time. The conditions are ripe for a massive blaze.

Neither NOAA or CSU attempt to say where or when particular storms will develop, nor can they forecast where they will make landfall this far out. Silvers said that weather events are simply too chaotic to forecast with that kind of precision.

"The atmosphere is a chaotic system, that's why your weather forecasts don't go out beyond ten days," said Silvers. "We can predict in advance something like El Niño, how long the Atlantic might stay warm, and those give us the ability to make a longer term general prediction."

What CSU does do is try to reasonably forecast the number of named storms, tropical storms, major hurricanes and the likelihood of landfall for each state on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. A CBS TV affiliate in Florida found that CSU's estimates for major storms were typically within three storms, which is fairly accurate.

Connecticut emergency management officials take CSU's predictions seriously. Brenda Bergeron deputy commissioner for the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection said the state was following CSU's predictions closely to prepare for the upcoming season.

"We are studying the hurricane forecast for this year and talking about how we would respond to it," said Bergeron. "We are very much conscious of the upcoming hurricane season, and we are doing preparations for anything that might come our way."

It might seem odd that Connecticut would be in the line of fire for an intense hurricane season. We are, after all, very far up the coast from where hurricanes typically make landfall. Silvers said the risk wasn't so much that a major hurricane would make landfall here, but that extreme storms or the aftershocks of a hurricane could still cause major wind and flood damage.

"One of the now classic examples you can point to is what happened with Sandy," said Silvers, who formerly taught at Stony Brook University in New York. "It made a huge impact on the area."

When Sandy made landfall in New Jersey in October 2012, it was no longer a hurricane but an extra-tropical cyclone, the remains of a hurricane that was later called a "superstorm." And the damage it caused was extreme in and around New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Silvers said the risk to our area wasn't so much that a major hurricane would make landfall, but that an intense hurricane season could create similar superstorms with extreme rain events and coastal surges.

Josh Cingranelli, a regional coordinator with the Connecticut Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security said that his primary concerns were with heavy rain, storm surges flowing into Long Island Sound and downed trees causing damage. But he said a hurricane making landfall here wasn't out of the question, either.

"The last landfalling hurricane was in 1985 here in Connecticut," said Cingranelli. "We are well above the average return period, which is around 15 years, for a minimum Category 1 hurricane." Even at that lowest end of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, a Category 1 can produce winds of 74 to 95 mph, causing damage to mobile homes, trees, piers, power lines and poles that likely will result in power outages that could last up to several days.

Cingranelli said that since the last landfall, Connecticut had gotten much more densely developed and forested, adding increased potential impact for even a low level hurricane.

Bergeron said that while state officials planned and prepared with municipal and local officials,,Connecticut residents should also take steps to prepare for a potential storm. She pointed to a government app, CTPrepares, which provides emergency alerts, communication and planning tools to residents.

"One thing I'll say ... is that it only takes one storm," said Bergeron. "We always prepare as if the one storm that comes up this year is going to be the one that hits us."

She encouraged people, particularly those on the coast, to be prepared with emergency supplies, radios, batteries, flashlights and water, well ahead of a potential storm.

©2024 Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.