NOAA forecasts 9 to 14 tropical storms this season

Published 1:49 pm Friday, May 22, 2009

Hurricanes will strike the United States this season and Americans must be prepared, federal forecasters said Thursday. They predicted nine to 14 named tropical storms this year.

Current projections call for a near normal year for hurricanes, Gerry Bell, lead Atlantic hurricane forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said at a briefing. The named storms are expected to include 4 to 7 hurricanes of which 1 to 3 are likely to be major storms.

“Hurricane season is upon us. We need to communicate down to the personal level, preparedness, now is the time,” said National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read.

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Have a plan and follow it, he said, waiting to see if the forecast changes can mean life or death.

Added Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency: “Hurricanes will make landfall in the United States, hurricanes will destroy homes, people need to heed the preparedness message and be ready to act,”

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke noted that, “Today, more than 35 million Americans live in regions most threatened by Atlantic hurricanes.”

Regardless of the total number of storms, Bell pointed out that “it only takes one to make it a very bad season.”

People in hurricane-prone areas need to think about how these storms and their flooding might affect their lives, and to have a hurricane preparedness plan in place before the season begins, he said.

Hurricane season officially starts June 1. Last year there were 16 named storms, of which 8 grew into hurricanes and 5 were major. About 1,000 people lost their lives, mostly in flash flooding in the Caribbean.

NOAA’s forecast comes just days after the Department of Homeland Security urged Americans to be prepared for hurricane season.

Competing climate factors complicate the forecast, Bell noted.

Raising the possibility of a busy season are an ongoing high-activity era that began in 1995, which includes enhanced rainfall over West Africa, warmer Atlantic waters and reduced wind shear.

However, Pacific Ocean conditions also can have an impact on Atlantic and Caribbean hurricanes and currently conditions are neutral for warming or cooling of the Pacific sea surface. If an El Nino warming were to develop, that would have the effect of reducing Atlantic hurricanes.

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco noted that the forecast will be updated in early August, normally the start of the busiest part of hurricane season.

Forecasters give a tropical storm a name when wind speeds reach 39 mph and upgrade it to a hurricane when sustained winds reach 74 mph. Major hurricanes have winds of more than 111 mph. The same type of storm is known as a typhoon or tropical cyclone in other parts of the world.

The first storm of this year in the Atlantic, Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico will be Ana, followed by Bill, Claudette and Danny.

Researchers at North Carolina State University say between 11 and 14 storms will develop in the Atlantic and 6 to 8 of them will become hurricanes. At Colorado State University, researchers forecast 12 named storms, including 6 hurricanes.

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