This content was derived from an article that originally was published by iJET International

The year 2017 was the costliest hurricane season on record, with some estimates reaching over USD 365 billion in damage. Most of this damage cost is attributed to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which devastated parts of the United States and the Caribbean. With restorative efforts in the hardest-hit communities still underway and having an effect on incoming travel, it is never too early to start thinking about how the upcoming hurricane season may impact travel plans and how business travelers can prepare for disruptions.

La Niña development

Although the official start of next year’s season is still months away, current atmospheric conditions could play a role in the number and intensity of future storms. The La Niña phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather pattern materialized in October and early November of 2017 and is a key driver in atmospheric conditions in the tropics. During a La Niña phase, colder-than-normal sea surface temperatures occur in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. This weather pattern reduces wind shear (defined as changing wind direction and speed throughout the atmosphere) in the Atlantic basin. Since wind shear tends to rip developing tropical systems apart, a La Niña phase of the ENSO correlates with enhanced activity in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean.

ENSO forecast

Forecasts indicate that while the current La Niña event is somewhat weak, it has a strong potential to continue through at least April 2018, and possibly longer. Even if La Niña dissipates before the start of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season on June 1, there is no guarantee that an El Niño phase (which typically correlates with reduced tropical activity) will immediately develop. It can take months for the ENSO cycle to transition between phases, meaning there is a possibility for an average or above average number of tropical systems in the Atlantic basin in 2018, according to iJET.

Caveats to consider

While it is important to factor the ENSO weather pattern into seasonal forecasts, it should be noted that other teleconnections — defined as large-scale, persistent anomalies in atmospheric circulation and pressure — also play a role in tropical activity. In addition, relying too heavily on ENSO forecasts can be detrimental to predictions of tropical activity, iJET reports. For example, an El Niño was predicated to develop prior to the start of the 2017 hurricane season, leading some forecasters to anticipate lower than normal tropical activity. Ultimately, this ENSO phase failed to develop.