Forecasters predict nine Atlantic hurricanes

The 2007 Atlantic hurricane season will be far more active than usual with 17 tropical storms, of which nine will grow into hurricanes, a noted United States forecasting team founded by William Gray said on Tuesday.

If the prediction proves true, the June 1 to November 30 hurricane season could mark a return to the destructive seasons of 2004, when four strong hurricanes hit Florida, and 2005, the year of Katrina, after a mild 2006 season when only 10 storms formed.

The 2004 and 2005 seasons rattled oil and insurance markets as hurricanes rampaged through the oil and gas fields of the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Katrina was the costliest storm in US history with more than $80-billion in damage in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast.

The 2005 season was a record-breaker with 28 storms and 15 hurricanes.

In its updated outlook for the 2007 season, the Colorado State University (CSU) team—led by hurricane forecast pioneer Gray and Philip Klotzbach—raised the number of expected storms and hurricanes from the 14 and seven, respectively, that it had predicted in December.

The forecasters said the disappearance of the El Niño warm-water phenomenon in the eastern Pacific, which dampened Atlantic hurricane activity last year, and warm Atlantic sea-surface temperatures lay behind their upgraded forecast.

“We’ve seen El Niño conditions dissipate quite rapidly late this winter, so we do not think that’s going to be an inhibiting factor this year,” Klotzbach said in a statement. “Also, we have warm Atlantic sea-surface temperatures this year, which we’ve seen just about every year since 1995.”

The CSU team predicted that five of the hurricanes would be the most destructive variety of category three or higher, with sustained winds above 177kph.

Last season produced 10 tropical storms, of which five became hurricanes and two turned into intense hurricanes.
The long-term averages are for just less than 10 storms and six hurricanes per season.

All the leading forecasters, including Gray’s group, erroneously predicted a busy season in 2006. The April 2006 forecast issued by Colorado State University was identical to Tuesday’s forecast for 17 storms and nine hurricanes in the looming 2007 season.

Gray’s 2007 forecast called for a 74% probability of a major hurricane hitting the US coast, compared with an average of 52% over the past century.

Forecasters say the Atlantic basin is in a long-term cycle of increased hurricane activity that began in about 1995 and could last 25 to 40 years. Some researchers also have drawn a link between global warming and increasingly intense hurricanes, which draw energy from warm sea water.

London-based forecaster Tropical Storm Risk on March 21 also predicted there would be 17 tropical storms, of which nine would strengthen into hurricanes, while private forecaster AccuWeather predicted a busy season but gave no numbers. It said the Gulf Coast and the US Northeast were at risk.—Reuters

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