Atlantic Basin, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico storm season 2017

Welcome to our ninth year of daily storm reports for the Atlantic basin, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico storm season. New readers can rest assured that this is by far the most I would expect anyone to read, being our joint summary of 2016 and forecast for 2017. I try and get the daily report done in a paragraph or two.

The season is given a nominal start date of June 1st by various agencies, analysts and vile weather enthusiasts, continuing through to a frankly overambitious end on November 30th. Our aim is to provide a daily simple, plainly worded and - one hopes – reasonably accurate forecast.

Despite the 2016 season being generally considered to have been ‘quiet', the number of disturbances was above average. Most were concentrated between the central Caribbean and south-eastern US. The far north-western Gulf of Mexico was significantly quiet.

In 2016 we had 15 named storms and 7 hurricanes and of which 3 became intense hurricanes. My reluctant prediction was for 13, 7 and 3, so was fairly close, but wildly inaccurate with location. I had expected primary activity to be the western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, with only secondary activity along the eastern seaboard. The latter proved to be the centre of activity for the season.

You may remember that hurricane ALEX burst into life in January to the north east of the Bahamas as a tropical low and hit the heights as it approached the Azores as a fish storm.

When the season proper kicked off, there was a lot of activity in the subtropical Atlantic, with substantially less along the western leg of the convergence zone. Of course, MATTHEW – the strongest storm of the year - started life here, turning north as it passed the Netherlands Antilles with inevitable heartbreaking and catastrophic impact in Haiti, then bringing flooding to eastern Florida and into the Carolinas in the first week of October.

The Gulf of Mexico dodged a season-long bullet again with just EARL making a brief appearance in August in the Gulf of Campeche and HERMINE which moved east into the Florida panhandle in early September, otherwise there was hardly any other activity in the western Caribbean.

OTTO piped up with a very late swansong and some tragic flooding consequences in the far south-western Caribbean, taking us almost into December.

Aside from that, most activity was well clear of the eastern seaboard out in subtropical Atlantic anonymity.

Many of you will be aware that I draw information from a number of sources, varying from the reliable agencies such as the UK Met Office, a couple of Europeans and of course many US, particularly military, sources. Just for fun, I occasionally treat myself to a peek at some of the catastrophists and storm enthusiasts who can always be relied upon to see a cumulus cloud and predict Armageddon. One such enthusiast, the blind sniper, is based somewhere to the north of the United States. I have a mental image of a deranged cat-herding hermit with yard-long beard, distilling moonshine in a snowbound shack and chatting with his house plants. However, credit where credit is due. Deranged or not, he was spot on with MATTHEW, long before anyone even thought this would go to the eastern seaboard.

So, to 2017.

For negative storm development, cold water temperatures in the Indian Ocean are the first indicator we have of a possible El Nino developing in the tropical Pacific which is very much substantiated by a measured increase in sea water temperatures in the tropical eastern Pacific. The more reliable El Nino/La Nina modellers seem to be agreeing on an early neutral followed by a weak El Nino as the season develops. Other indicators are reduced rainfall in the Caribbean, predicted high pressure in the central Atlantic (which means less rising air for storm development) and a south westerly jetstream which will bring upper level winds across the southern Caribbean to the eastern seaboard. On the storm development plus side, sea conditions in the Gulf of Mexico have been relatively slight - less churn – so sea water temperatures have not fallen substantially through the winter months and temperatures are expected to be well above normal for the storm season. Not good.

Where? High pressure over the tropical Atlantic is likely to hinder the usual east-west production line which is fairly good news for the islands of the south-east Caribbean. The more fertile areas are to the north-east of the Caribbean - although the south-westerly jet stream should push northbound systems clear of the eastern seaboard. The second area of concern will inevitably be the far western Caribbean and south-western Gulf of Mexico. I don't believe the oil lease areas of the north-west Gulf of Mexico can dodge another bullet this year, sadly.

I don't like numbers, but based on the above, will take a stab at 12 named storm, 6 hurricanes and 2 intense hurricanes. In October this year, it will be exactly 12 years since the last category 3 hurricane made a landfall in the United States. The longest such period in recorded history. Just saying.

Storm names this year – ARLENE ( which already passed relatively unnoticed as a fish storm around the Azores last week ) BRET, CINDY, DON, EMILY, FRANKLIN, GERT, HARVEY, IRMA, JOSE, KATIA, LEE, MARIA, NATE, OPHELIA, PHILIPPE, RINA, SEAN, TAMMY, VINCE and WHITNEY.

I had told my colleagues that 2016 would be my last year only to be reminded that I said this every November for the past eight years. So, true to form, I'll be starting the ninth year in the next few weeks. We start collecting information early each morning London time. Once the overnight reports are in from the US (mid-afternoon our time), we issue our daily report as an email. Later these reports are posted on our website at and on Twitter@watkinsmarine. Thanks to the many addressees who have sent feedback and comment throughout the winter. This is always much appreciated.

Please feel free to pass our details onto colleagues who may wish to be added to our circulation list of email or myself

Stand By Engines.