While a near-normal number of named storms is forecast for the 2012 eastern Pacific hurricane season, some of the storms may impact the Four Corners states with both needed rain and flooding problems.
Stingy winter storms and short-lived summer rainfall have contributed to years of drought in the Southwest U.S. and northern Mexico. The drought is taking its toll on area water supplies and contributing to the recent round of wildfires.
There is some hope later this summer for tropical storms and moisture to travel farther north from the eastern Pacific. However, a greater amount of water heading north could also translate to significant flash flooding and a risk to lives and property.
The AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center is projecting 15 tropical storms, of which 8 will become hurricanes in the eastern Pacific basin.
The drought to flood cycle in the Southwest is not uncommon to long-term residents, but this could be one of those years for some folks.
According to AccuWeather.com's Long-Range Experts, headed by veteran meteorologist Paul Pastlelok, "We expect El Niño to develop this fall and high pressure in the West to shift farther north for a time later this summer."
El Niño, the opposite of La Niña, is represented by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific that can lead to a higher number of tropical systems ranging from tropical depressions to tropical storms and hurricanes.
"High pressure has been situated rather far south in the West the past couple of years. If it sets up farther north as anticipated, it would open the door for more tropical moisture (pop-up thundershowers) to flow into the Four Corners region, as well as the potential for a couple of tropical storms in the mix," Pastelok said.
States primarily impacted would be New Mexico, Arizona, portions of Colorado, Utah and western Texas.
According to AccuWeather.com Tropical Weather Expert Dan Kottlowski, "The key will be how quickly the influence from El Niño develops and how the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) balance out."
The PDO is an anomaly of northeastern Pacific surface water temperature that often lasts for decades. The PDO is currently in a cold phase. Cold water tends to weaken or prevent tropical systems.
It is also believed that the PDO helps to produce frequent troughs of low pressure just off the West Coast of North America that tend to tear up tropical systems as they move northward.
Last season, only a couple of systems wandered north of Cape Corrientes along the west coast of Mexico.
Both Kottlowski and the Long Range Team do not expect the effects of El Niño to be immediate. Nor do they expect a hurricane or tropical storm to survive as an entity very long after making landfall.
Western Weather Expert Ken Clark expects southern Baja California, Mexico, will have to deal with more tropical activity and that the Southwest will receive more rainfall as a result, when compared to recent years.
Based on their analysis, a near-average number of named tropical systems (tropical storms and hurricanes) are forecast for the eastern Pacific basin this season and the season may extend later or be weighted more toward the second half of the season.
We have been in a La Niña and cold PDO phase the past two hurricane seasons, which might explain the below-average number of named systems during the period in the eastern Pacific. During the 2010 season, there was a record low number (eight) named systems. During 2011, there were 11 named systems.
It is impossible to say exactly how many storms will directly influence the Southwest U.S., or when and exactly where the heaviest rains will track. There is at least, based on what we are seeing, the potential for beneficial rain and a risk of flash flooding in part of the Southwest U.S. later this summer.
"While you cannot gauge an entire season just because one system, Aletta, jumped the gun, a greater number of systems, compared to recent years, may be a loaded gun in itself," Kottlowski stated.
Kottlowski, Clark and Pastelok's Long-Range Team of meteorologists have well over 100 years of combined forecasting experience.
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