If a new hurricane modeling system is correct, the East Coast can expect to get hit by one tropical storm this year and another will make landfall on the Gulf Coast.
The Coastal Carolina University of Conway, S.C., released a first-of-its-kind prediction on Thursday on the probability of a tropical storm making landfall during a hurricane season. The most likely scenario is that the East Coast and Gulf Coast each will get hit by one tropical storm, and the second most likely outcome is that each coast will be hit by two storms. It's less likely that both coasts will avoid getting hit by a storm.
The Coastal Carolina University prediction isn't the only one that estimates the probability of a storm making landfall. For example, the Colorado State University Hurricane Forecast Team said in April there is a 72 percent chance a major hurricane will make landfall somewhere on the U.S. coastline and a 48 percent chance it will hit the East Coast, including Florida.
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Most studies calculating the chance a hurricane will make landfall calculate a climatological percentage of how many storms formed and how many made landfall in the past, said Len Pietrafesa, a hurricane researcher at Coastal Carolina University.
"We've looked through the peer-reviewed literature … and we haven't seen anything else that differs from that kind of approach. Ours is looking at a number of different climate factors … and then we look at where we are this year across that suite of climate factors and what happened in the past when you had that suite," said Pietrafesa, who grew up in Torrington and graduated from Fairfield University in 1965.
The Coastal Carolina University's new model, called the Hurricane Genesis and Outlook Project or HUGO, is based on calculations of 22 climatological factors involving oceanic, atmospheric and shoreline activity. The HUGO model also takes into account detailed statistical data from Atlantic hurricanes dating back to 1950.
Pietrafesa compares the analysis to analyzing home runs to anticipate the number of home runs a gifted player might get in an upcoming year.
"For the East Coast, that's a big increase, because it's like one every year and a half, and now we're saying it could be one or two," Pietrafesa said. "And in the Gulf, it's either a little bit above normal or even stronger than that."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declined to comment on the Coastal Carolina University study — as the federal agency does with all outside research. It did, however, explain why its climate predictions do not include landfall probabilities.
"NOAA's Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook does not include landfall predictions because weather patterns in place as hurricanes are approaching determine when, where and how many will make landfall. These weather patterns are not reliably predictable this far in advance," said Susan Buchanan, spokeswoman for the NOAA National Weather Service.
NOAA predicted in late May that the hurricane season from June 1 to Nov. 30 will bring 13 to 20 named storms, of which seven to 11 will be hurricanes. Three to six of those hurricanes will be major. That forecast is slated for an update on Aug. 8.
A named storm has sustained winds of at least 39 mph, and a hurricane has sustained winds of at least 74 mph. A major hurricane is a category 3 or greater, meaning it has sustained winds of at least 111 mph.