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Officials predict fewer hurricanes in 2015 than last year, but that's no reason the ones that do form can't do some damage.

Hurricane forecast: Risk still high as fewer storms expected

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Sunday, July 5, 2015, 1:07 PM - This year's hurricane season is poised to be quieter than average, according to the Canadian Hurricane Centre.

We can all thank the El Nino effect for cooler ocean temperatures and changing wind directions, which interfere with the formation of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean.

The announcement was made just as hurricane season is set to kick off, beginning June 1.

This news aligns with earlier predictions that were likely music for the ears of people living along the coasts of eastern North America.

Earlier this year, Philip J. Klotzbach and William M. Gray of Colorado State University released a report predicting the 2015 hurricane season would be one of the least active since the mid-20th Century.

So how will it compare to past years? In the United States, the National Hurricane Centre is predicting six to 11 named storms this season. Of those, no more than two are likely to reach Category 3 or higher.

That's even quieter than last year, and well below the average:

But Weather Network meteorologist Doug Gillham says predicting a less active season only relates to raw numbers of hurricanes, not the kind of damage that could be caused by the storms that do form.

"More important is the number of storms that make landfall," Gillham says. "You could have 20 storms that recurve out to sea without making landfall, and it'll be a season no one remembers."

The raw numbers are predicted to be down compared to past seasons because of stronger-than-average winds in the upper atmosphere, and cooler than normal waters in the tropical Atlantic, a breeding ground for many tropical storms.

But that's not the hurricanes' only cradle. The waters around the Mexican Gulf and southern United States also spawn hurricanes.

"Storms that develop closer to land [such as in the Gulf] don't have anywhere to escape," he says.

In fact, Gillham says, some forecasters say storms are more likely to develop closer to land this season, opening the door to widespread destruction if, as is likely, they were to make landfall.

The 1992 hurricane season is often cited as an example of how the raw number of storms aren't an indication of their severity. Out of seven total storms, four became hurricanes and only one reached Category 3 or higher.

Detail: The season debuted with Hurricane Andrew.

Andrew 23 aug 1992 1231Z.jpg
"Andrew 23 aug 1992 1231Z" by NOAA / Satellite and Information Service - https://www.class.noaa.gov/ Inventory ID:1998489, Dataset Name:NSS.HRPT.ND.D92236.S1231.E1243.B0663434.WI. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The storm was a Category 5 monster at its height, lashing the Bahamas and the southeastern United States in August. It caused 26 direct deaths (and another 39 indirect), and caused more than $26 billion in damage -- at the time, the most destructive U.S. hurricane in history.

Closer to home, Canada suffers fewer direct hits from hurricanes than the U.S., but we are not immune.

Hurricane Juan, for example, made a direct hit on Nova Scotia in 2003 as a Category 2 storm. It brought widespread coastal devastation, did $300 million in damage and is responsible for eight deaths. 

Looking further back, 1954's Hurricane Hazel had its origins in the Caribbean but eventually impacted southern Ontario, where 81 people died. In 1959, a hurricane all but wiped out the fishing fleet in the New Brunswick community of Escuminac, with 35 fatalities.

And reaching back even further, the storms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries killed hundreds of people at a time, and a 1770s storm off Newfoundland claimed a staggering 4,000 lives -- Canada's single deadliest natural disaster.

Even in milder seasons, like 2014, we may feel the storms' sting. Last year, the very first tropical storm of the season, Arthur, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people in Atlantic Canada, and police in Woodstock, N.B.,  say it may have been a factor in one fatality, a man in his 70s who lost power to his oxygen machine.

In Newfoundland, the strong winds of Hurricane Gonzalo caused power outages in St. John's, while torrential rains caused localized flooding.

SOURCES: Colorado State University | CBC New Brunswick | CBC Newfoundland

WATCH BELOW: Science behind the weather: How does a hurricane form?

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