By Matt Walker
It shut off like a kill switch. From two storms to zilch. Bill. Danny. Done. No major US landfalls. (Although both struck Nova Scotia). No major US worries, except maybe from surfers who saw their tropical dreams disintegrate like a tropical wave under too much wind shear.
Which is exactly what happened. Come late September, El Nino — the same so called "child" who made California's whole year one big play date — showed up and met every building storm head on, knocking down tropical waves like a pile of blocks and causing tantrums up and down the East Coast. (At least those same weather patterns made for an epic Caribbean winter.)
But El Nino's already in the process of hiking its Pampers and hitting the road. Add some 'above normal' sea surface temperatures, and that leaves East Coast surfers with an even bigger pile of shit to worry about. In the words of Colorado State's climate team "these two features will lead to favorable dynamic and thermodynamic conditions for hurricane formation and intensification."
How intense? Depends on the source. Colorado State says 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes, 5 major (Category 3 or above.) NOAA — who only recently stated reading tropical tarot cards — plays loose as only a government agency can: "eight to 14 hurricanes would form. Scientists forecast that three to seven of those hurricanes would be major storms that reach Category 3 or higher – meaning they bring sustained winds of at least 111 mph.)"
Now, these guys always say "brace yourselves for a doozie." But, history shows this time we have a reason to be concerned. Not just because the Gulf's got a bazillion gallons of oil to smear across coastlines at just the hint of a hurricane. But because the last super wimp El Nino year was 1997 — and 1998 came back with a vengeance, totaling 14 named storms, 10 of which became hurricanes, and 3 of them majors. Two of those were named Georges — which wrecked the Caribbean and Gulf — and Mitch, which killed at least 11,000 people, mostly in Honduras and Nicaragua to become "the deadliest hurricane of modern times." Meanwhile, Bonnie racked up a cool $1 billion in damage to North Carolina and Virginia.
Granted, nobody can totally predict how many storms and where they'll strike. But we can tell you this: El Nino's gone bye-bye; and Mid-Atlantic surfers are trunking it in May, way earlier than normal. So put away the tricycles and big wheels. Get all the loose toys out of the yard. And pick up your wave sticks. Cause the season starts June 1. And this year's no child's play.