As with any season, a landfalling hurricane can be a serious threat regardless of seasonal outlooks for the Atlantic Basin at large.
For the North Atlantic Basin, seasonal outlook providers are expecting tropical activity to fall below the long-term average of 1955-2014. Common factors include a continuing El Niño and cool sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Atlantic Main Development Region (AMDR) (the area of the tropical Atlantic between Africa and the Gulf of Mexico, specifically 10°N-20°N and 20°W-85°W).
Historically, it is clear that the relationship between basin activity and landfalls is very volatile. Greater Atlantic activity does not necessarily equate to more tropical storm landfalls, just as a quiet season does not guarantee safety from a catastrophic hurricane landfall. Landfalls are determined by weather patterns during a hurricane’s lifetime, not pre-season estimates of hurricane frequency. The recent landfall of Tropical Storms Ana and Bill stands as a reminder to this point.
Indeed, much of the Atlantic Main Development region currently carries cooler sea-surface temperatures, but the waters of the northern Caribbean and northern Gulf of Mexico are warmer than average. Tropical storm development close to the mainland carries a higher chance of landfall.
Also, it is accepted that El Niño conditions tend to suppress hurricane development in the Atlantic Basin, but scientific research reveals that this effect is strongest in the deep tropics, and generally south of 20°N. The 1957 and 1965 seasons were both moderate El Niño years, but witnessed the landfall of major hurricanes - Audrey (1957) and Betsy (1965). The 1957 season experienced only three hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin at large and Audrey was the only one of the three to make U.S. landfall. Audrey formed in the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall as a notorious Category 4 hurricane near the Texas-Louisiana border.
While we indeed may see a quiet season, warm waters in the northern Gulf of Mexico and northern Caribbean warrant a moment of pause. As with any season, landfall is a possibility and warrants review of hurricane plans and procedures by both property owners and the (re)insurance industry alike.