A 'cold blob' of water in the North Atlantic Ocean may be what ultimately determines the strength or weakness of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, say experts at AccuWeather.com.
"This area of colder water started to show up a few years ago and has become larger and more persistent during the past couple of years," AccuWeather Atlantic Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said.
This cold blob is a large, anomalous area of colder-than-normal sea-surface temperatures, located east of Newfoundland and south of Greenland.
Forecasters are unsure how this year's cold blob will impact the Atlantic hurricane season, but they are predicting 14 for this season.
They present two scenarios that could cause the season to be significant or fairly tame. In the first scenario, cooler water could migrate south across the eastern Atlantic and flow west into the breeding ground of the Atlantic Ocean where most hurricanes form. This will cause sea-surface temperatures to lower, which could limit hurricane development.
Another possibility is that the water from the cold blob could alter the makeup of deep ocean currents and affect the salinity of the water. If this happens, the pattern of warming waters that has been occurring since 1995 will reverse, leading to a period of cooling. Either of these scenarios would limit tropical development in the Atlantic.
If these scenarios don't occur, sea-surface temperatures will remain mostly warmer than normal, likely resulting in a season more active than in the past three years.
Should this be the case, experts believe the current El Niño will weaken, eventually leading to a neutral pattern by the end of the spring or early summer.
"The big question is whether we will go into a La Niña, which is what we're anticipating right now," Kottlowski said.
"Historically, some hurricane seasons that have followed a transition from El Niño to La Niña have been very active. It's possible we could flip from one extreme to the other, from below-normal seasons the past three years to an above-normal year in 2016," he said.