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NOAA's GOES satellite shows Hurricane Irma as it moves towards the Florida Coast in the Caribbean Sea on September 07, 2017. Credit: NOAA via Getty Images

It's now officially hurricane season, and there's a lot of anxiety after last year's extraordinary devastation from several vicious storms.

What to watch: Forecasting groups including the U.S. government are calling for the likelihood of a near-average to slightly above-average season, though emerging signs may call for this projection to be revised downward mid-season.

The details: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projects there will likely be between 10 and 16 named storms this season, five to nine of which will be hurricanes, and one to four major hurricanes (Category 3 or greater) are expected.

Yes, but: As of June 1, sea surface temperatures in the so-called "Main Development Region," which is where most Atlantic hurricanes form, are running below average for this time of year. In fact, these waters are the coldest they've been at the start of hurricane season since May 1994. This would suggest that the season may be less active than usual.

Having said that, experts told Axios the season could still get more active. Here's why:

  • The Atlantic is still in an active cycle of tropical storms and hurricanes that began in 1995.
  • Colder than average sea surface temperatures likely resulted from prevailing winds around a persistent area of high pressure in the west-central Atlantic during April and May. That weather pattern could soon change, heating waters up quickly.
  • “The most effective way to change the sea surface temperature is to change the winds that are blowing across it,” says Jim Kossin, a hurricane researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  • “There isn’t a very strong relationship between the anomalies now and the anomalies in August, which is when things really start to happen in the Atlantic," Kossin said.

Other hurricane specialists told Axios that the sea surface temperature pattern is still suggestive of below average hurricane activity, but could change as the peak of the season nears in August through September.

Atlantic Ocean sea surface temperature anomalies on June 1, 2018, showing the unusually cold area off the West Coast of Africa into the Caribbean. Credit: Weatherbell Analytics

The back story: Last year, 17 named storms formed in the Atlantic Ocean basin, 10 of which were hurricanes, and six were major hurricanes. The most active period last year was from late August through early October.

Recommendations to prepare:

  • FEMA Deputy Administrator Daniel Kaniewski urged those who could be affected by the hurricane season to download the FEMA app to stay up-to-date on alerts. He also suggested purchasing flood insurance.
  • There will be an update to the forecast in August, just before the peak of the season starts.

Go deeper: More about the past thirty years of Atlantic hurricanes.

Sign up for our Axios Science newsletter here.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

Report: LGBTQ+ Afghans' lives "dramatically worsened" under Taliban rule

Taliban fighters in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this month. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP via Getty Images

LGBTQ+ Afghans have been threatened, attacked and "faced an increasingly desperate situation and grave threats to their safety" since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last August, per a report published Wednesday.

What they're saying: "We spoke with LGBT Afghans who have survived gang rape, mob attacks, or have been hunted by their own family members who joined the Taliban, and they have no hope that state institutions will protect them," per a statement from study co-author J. Lester Feder.

4 hours ago - World

Canadian Indigenous group finds 93 suspected unmarked graves

A makeshift memorial honoring the 215 children whose remains were found in a mass grave in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, last May. Photo: Cole Burston/AFP via Getty Images

Indigenous leaders in Canada's western province of British Columbia said Tuesday they believe they've found 93 unmarked graves near a former boarding school.

The big picture: Hundreds of mass graves have been found at the grounds of former residential schools for Indigenous children since last May, when the remains of 215 children were uncovered at one such site in B.C.

7 hours ago - World

Coast Guard searches for 39 people after boat capsizes off Florida coast

A U.S. Coast Guard ship leaving its base in Miami Beach, Florida, in July. Photo: AP/Marta Lavandier

U.S. Coast Guard crews were searching into the night for 39 people whose boat sank off Florida's coast over the weekend after traveling from the Bahamas.

The big picture: A "good Samaritan" contacted the Coast Guard about 8 a.m. Tuesday to say they "rescued a man clinging to a capsized vessel" 45 miles east of Fort Pierce, per a tweet from the agency, which noted it was dealing with "a suspected human smuggling venture."