CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Don’t wait until a storm is brewing in the Gulf of Mexico to start making your hurricane plans. With the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season upon us, now’s the perfect time to map out your emergency plan in the event that the Coastal Bend is affected by threats like severe flooding, damaging winds and storm surge.
The hurricane season, which starts Wednesday, June 1, and ends Wednesday, Nov. 30, is likely transitioning from an El Niño to a neutral or La Niña season, according to Dr. Philippe Tissot, Associate Research Professor in the College of Science and Engineering and Associate Director of the Conrad Blucher Institute (CBI) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
“If you’re in an El Niño year, on average, you will have a lesser chance of a hurricane in the Atlantic Basin,” said Tissot. “But La Niña is the opposite. You will have a higher possibility of hurricane development in the Atlantic. However, this should not be a game changer as far as preparation, especially for a coastal community like us. We need to be prepared every year. It is a certainty that we will be hit by a ‘Big One’ again eventually.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center, in its May 30 update, states that El Niño is still present but weakening and gives “about a 75 percent chance of La Niña during the fall and winter 2016-17.”
Tissot says that the strongest impacts of El Niño and La Niña are felt during the winter and late spring. La Niña is characterized by warmer and drier than average temperatures in our part of the country. In comparison, El Niño produces cooler temperatures and more precipitation.
“This spring is a perfect example of this correlation with all the rain we have had,” he said. “We’re coming out of one of the strongest El Niño patterns on record.”
At present, predictions are for a “near average season” from most but not all forecasting groups. The Weather Channel predicts 12-13 named storms, including five to six hurricanes and two to three major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger) this season for the Atlantic Basin. The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
While the relationship between hurricane activity and climatic conditions is interesting and important to study, for coastal residents this should not make any difference in their preparation.
“The ‘Big One’ is the one that hits you and we need to renew our preparations every year ahead of the hurricane season,” Tissot added. “We haven’t had a major hurricane in 46 years. The question is not if we are going to be hit by a major hurricane, but when.”
While most years the Coastal Bend will not be in the direct path of a major storm or will only be impacted by faraway storms, it is a certainty that eventually our area will be hit again with a large 1919, or 1970 Celia type of storm.
Tissot’s research focuses on the modeling of coastal processes. Projects include the study of sea levels, regional sea level rise and its impact, storm surge, littoral boundaries and inundation frequencies. Tissot and his team at the CBI developed and implemented operational coastal models predicting water levels, water temperatures and currents to assist in the prediction of coastal flooding and navigation. The models have been used by the National Weather Service and local and state agencies. Research and models are often based on data from the Texas Coastal Ocean Observation Network (TCOON) and NOAA’s National Water Level Observation Network (NWLON). Tissot teaches a graduate-level course in environmental forecasting and also develops, with his students, mobile apps to facilitate access to coastal and environmental data.
Through his research, Tissot says that the northern Texas coast and the Coastal Bend are slowly sinking at different rates, depending on location. As relative sea level is rising, the impact of small or faraway storms will increase significantly. It is important to consider small but increasingly frequent inundation (flooding) events for areas close to water levels such as North Beach, and parts of Flour Bluff, Padre Island and Rockport and continue to build more resilient communities. Better prepared communities will also contribute to contained flood insurance claims and rates.
“As we enter hurricane season, our degree of preparation as individuals and as a community will make a big difference in terms of life and property saved and our ability to rebound after the storm,” Tissot said.
For more information and access to the latest Hurricane guide, available in English or Spanish versions, click HERE.