After one of the stronger El Nino warming events on records, the surface waters of the Equatorial Pacific have been cooling rapidly.

The state of the Pacific is a critical piece in the scary hurricane forecasts issued for the Atlantic Basin seasons, which begins today.


Last year the Basin was dead quiet, due in large part to El Nino, the anomalous warming of waters over thousands of miles of the Pacific.During El Nino, strong west-to-east shearing winds rip apart burgeoning storms before they have a chance to develop. When the waters cool off, the shearing weakens.

Now, the waters not only have cooled off, they may be heading into the state known as La Nina, when the waters become cooler than normal.

When that happens, says Gerry Bell, chief long-range hurricane forecasters for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the shear essentially shuts off.

Other factors contribute to active hurricane season, including unusually warm Atlantic waters, but the absence of shear is a big one.

In the Pacific update it issued yesterday, that government said that parts of the eastern Pacific had cooled to below normal and that it saw a "growing possibility" that La Nina would take hold.

The state of the Pacific is a huge deal for insurers -- and the U.S. taxpayers. Some years back, the University of Colorado's Roger Pielke and the National Hurricane Center's Christopher Landsea published an analysis of the hurricane cost differences between La Nina and El Nino-influenced season.

You'll find that paper here.