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The peak of the hurricane season starts this week and experts are busy updating the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season forecast. In a report released yesterday, Colorado State University researchers, renowned in the field, continue to predict a reduced number of named tropical storms and hurricanes due to the effect of a strong El Niño building in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Warm air rising from the increasingly warm surface of the Pacific packs a punch that can have different effects as it travels across the US and Gulf of Mexico.

One of the likely effects is to push colder air further south across the Atlantic Ocean. This results in cooler than normal ocean waters in the hurricane spawning area between the coast of Africa and the US. This may reduce the number and strength of tropical storms and hurricanes that make landfall along the Atlantic coastal areas of the US.

But tropical storms and hurricanes can also develop closer to home in the Gulf of Mexico, where they don't have as much potential of escaping out to sea. Fast-forming storms in the Gulf can increase in strength quickly, make landfall, and cause widespread damage.

An example is Tropical Storm Bill, the second named storm this season. It formed off the coast of Honduras, gained strength in the Gulf of Mexico as it traveled north, made landfall in Texas on June 16th, and marched across the US as a tropical depression for several days. Record river flooding, widespread downpours with 6-8 inches of rainfall, over-ground flooding, and destruction devastated many communities in the Midwest as well as Texas.

NOAA image of Tropical Storm Bill rainfall forecast across the US June predicts up to 6 - 8 inches in some areas of the Midwest.

Major wind and rain events are often difficult to prepare for, especially if they seem like far-off events. But they can travel to your home and neighborhood with an unpredictable intensity. While there have been incremental improvements in predicting hurricane landfalls, the intensity and time traveling across land is often more difficult to predict in time to warn of the effects.

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is upgrading its Coyote drones for storm research to address these issues. The Coyote UAS, Unmanned Aircraft System, is dropped in a free-fall canister from the belly of a hurricane chaser plane, and is designed to then open its six-foot wingspan to fly through the storm at altitudes below 3,000 feet. This is much lower than manned storm chasers can fly safely. The Coyote UAS flies with the wind currents, but its path can be controlled horizontally and vertically by remote control from the planes above. It collects and transmits data on temperature, pressure, humidity and wind observations that are used in tandem with higher altitude observations to improve forecasting a hurricane's intensity and track.

The Atlantic hurricane season is June 1 to November 30, with the possibility of events before or after the typical hurricane season. Tuesday's forecast by the experts at the Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, predict a reduced number of storms this season with a potential for 8 named storms, 25 named storm days, and 2 hurricanes, 1 possibly a major hurricane.

The intensity, days crossing land, and potential damage to broad swaths of homes and business are yet to be determined. Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the report, cautioned that residents and businesses should continue to take proper precautions. “It takes only one landfall event near you to make this an active season,” he said.

It might also be prudent to check with your insurance company regarding your current coverage for over-land flooding and wind-driven rain events.

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