Forecasters increase Atlantic hurricane outlook

Published 6:00 pm Friday, August 8, 2008

Federal forecasters on Thursday upgraded their outlook for this Atlantic hurricane season to include two more named storms than previously predicted.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects an 85 percent probability of an above-normal season — up from 65 percent in May.

In its August update, NOAA said there was a better than average chance of 14 to 18 named storms, seven to 10 hurricanes and three to six hurricanes of at least Category 3 strength, which would be top sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

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So far this year, five named storms, including two hurricanes, have formed. The hurricane season ends Nov. 30.

In May, the federal outlook called for 12 to 16 named storms, six to nine hurricanes and two to five major ones. An average season has 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

Atmospheric and ocean conditions are ripe for an above-normal season, said Gerry Bell, the lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md.

“Some of these conditions include reduced wind shear, weaker trade winds, an active West African monsoon system, the winds coming off of Africa and warmer-than-average water in the Atlantic Ocean,” Bell said.

Tropical Storm Arthur formed near the coast of Belize the day before the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season officially began June 1. It quickly made landfall at the Belize-Mexico border, and five people died in Belize amid the flooding caused by the storm.

The season’s first hurricane, Bertha, reached Category 3 strength before slowly blustering past Bermuda last month as a weaker storm. Tropical Storm Cristobal dumped rain along the Carolinas’ coastline late last month but did not make landfall.

Texas has been struck twice this season. Hurricane Dolly on July 23 slammed into the South Texas coast as a Category 2 storm with top sustained winds of at least 96 mph. The storm dumped more than a foot of rain in places. Tropical Storm Edouard came ashore Tuesday east of Galveston.

“Typically when you have strong activity during July, that’s also a very strong indicator the remainder of the season will be above-normal,” Bell said.

The peak months of hurricane season are August through October.

Noted hurricane researcher William Gray revised his Atlantic forecast on Tuesday, calling for 17 named storms, including nine hurricanes, this season. The former Colorado State University climatologist said five of the hurricanes will be major.

Gray’s revised forecast includes hurricanes Bertha and Dolly. He had previously called for 15 named storms and eight hurricanes.