Expert predicts ‘very active’ Atlantic hurricane season

Published 4:39 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A top researcher predicted a “very active” 2007 Atlantic hurricane season Tuesday, with at least nine hurricanes and a good chance one will hit the U.S. coast.

The forecast by William Gray predicts 17 named storms this year, five of them major hurricanes. The probability of a major storm making landfall on the U.S. coast this year is 74 percent, compared with the average of 52 percent over the past century, he said.

The forecast, issued two months before the hurricane season starts, is virtually identical to the one Gray issued before the 2006 season, which turned out far quieter than he and others had feared.

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“Our forecast skill does improve as we get closer to the start of the season,” said Phil Klotzbach, a member of Gray’s team at Colorado State University. “Stay tuned.”

Last May, Gray’s team forecast 17 named storms in 2006, including nine hurricanes, five of them major ones, and an 81 percent chance that at least one major hurricane would hit the U.S. Scientists with the National Hurricane Center and two other National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agencies issued similar predictions.

Instead, there were 10 named storms in 2006 and five hurricanes, two of them major ones, in what was considered a “near normal” season. None of those hurricanes hit the U.S. Atlantic coast — only the 11th time that has occurred since 1945.

Gray’s team said a late, unexpected El Nino contributed to the calmer season last year. El Nino — a warming in the Pacific Ocean — has far-reaching effects that include changing wind patterns in the eastern Atlantic, which can disrupt the formation of hurricanes.

Over the past winter, a weak to moderate El Nino occurred but dissipated rapidly, Klotzbach said.

“Conditions this year are likely to be more conducive to hurricanes,” he said. In the absence of El Nino, “winds aren’t tearing the storm systems apart.”

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, averages 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes.

Gray predicted 2005 would have 11 named storms, including six hurricanes, three of them major. Instead, there were a record 26 named storms, 14 of which were hurricanes and seven of which were intense hurricanes. Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma combined to make 2005 the costliest hurricane season on record.

Gray and Klotzbach were traveling late Tuesday and could not be reached to discuss the 2005 forecast.

The team’s forecasts are based on global oceanic and atmospheric conditions.

Joe Farmer of the South Carolina Emergency Management Division said the state tries to keep residents alert and ready, regardless of the severity of the predictions by Gray and others.

“We really don’t know which year is going to be the South Carolina year,” Farmer said. “It only takes one storm.”

Craig Fugate, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said Gray’s year-to-year forecasts are closely watched, but more important is the underlying research that shows hurricane activity rises and falls in long, multiyear cycles. Coastal states may enjoy long periods of calm, he said, but “we can’t drop our guard and relax our planning and building codes, because it’s going happen again.”

Gray has spent more than 40 years in tropical weather research. He heads the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State.

Federal government forecasters plan to release their prediction in late May.

On the Net:

CSU forecast:

National Hurricane Center: