US government forecasters expect up to 9 hurricanes in 2008

Published 5:08 pm Friday, May 23, 2008

The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season should be about as bad as normal or slightly busier, with a good chance of six to nine hurricanes forming, federal forecasters said Thursday in a new way of predicting how active the season could be.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials also said 12 to 16 named storms and two to five major hurricanes could form in the season that starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

They said there is only a 60 to 70 percent chance for their predictions to come true, the first time officials gave a probability. They took that step following years of criticism of their long-range forecasts, which have usually been fairly accurate but in some cases have been way off.

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For example, government forecasters expected 12 to 15 named storms in 2005, but there turned out to be 28, the busiest season on record.

Forecasters stress residents should always be prepared no matter what the seasonal forecasts say, because even a slow year can be disastrous. The government’s seasonal forecasts don’t predict whether, where or when any of these storms may hit land.

Gerry Bell, the agency’s lead forecaster for Atlantic hurricanes, said probabilities were included because people had come to rely too much on the forecasts. “Basically it was interpreted as a 100 percent chance,” he said.

Since large businesses, emergency responders and federal agencies use the predictions to plan for storm season, Bell said it was important to provide as much information as possible.

“What matters here for people is that we’re indicating there’s going to be quite a bit of activity this season,” Bell said. “Whether it falls in that particular range or not is really secondary.”

He said cooler water temperatures caused by La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean could reduce the wind shear that can rip apart Atlantic storms before they gain strength.

An average season has 11 named storms, including six hurricanes for which two reach major status of at least Category 3 with winds of more than 110 mph.

Forecasters and emergency responders fear that coastal residents will be apathetic this year after the United States escaped the past two storm seasons virtually unscathed.

“Living in a coastal state means having a plan for each and every hurricane season. Review or complete emergency plans now — before a storm threatens,” said Conrad C. Lautenbacher, NOAA administrator. “Planning and preparation is the key to storm survival and recovery.”

Colorado State University weather researcher William Gray expects 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major this year.

Last year, there were 15 named storms and six hurricanes, two of which were major. The government predicted 13 to 17 named storms, seven to 10 hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes.

Gray was further off the mark. Before the start of the season, he forecast 17 named storms, including nine hurricanes, five of them major.

Names selected for the Atlantic hurricanes in the 2008 season include: Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna, Ike, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paloma, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred.