Hurricane outlook: up to five big ones expected

The National Hurricane Center’s forecasters are predicting another above-normal hurricane season for 2005, unhappy news after last year’s destructive season.

“NOAA’s prediction for the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season is for 12 to 15 tropical storms, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes, of which three to five could become major hurricanes,” said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Forecaster confidence that this will be an active hurricane season is very high.”

That outlook reflects an expected continuation of above-average activity that began in 1995. Since then, all but two Atlantic hurricane seasons have been above normal. The official hurricane season starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

Analysis of historical data, continued Atlantic Ocean warming and a belief that significant El Niño conditions for this summer are unlikely all led to the expectation of above-average activity, weather scientists explained.

While it is impossible to predict where and when one of these storms may hit, until it is actually being tracked, NOAA still cautions the public to be prepared.

“Last year’s hurricane season is a reminder that planning and preparation for a hurricane do make a difference. Residents in hurricane vulnerable areas who had a plan, and took individual responsibility for acting on those plans, faired far better than those who did not,” said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center.

Predictions are made using information from scientists at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, Hurricane Research Division and National Hurricane Center. Sophisticated numerical models and other high-tech tools are used to forecast tropical storms and hurricanes from that information and from NOAA and Air Force Reserve flights directly into the storms. Information from a variety of satellites, data buoys, weather radars and international meteorological services also is used.

NOAA isn’t the only organization predicting more hurricanes than normal this year. William Gray, Philip Klotzbach and their Colorado State University forecast team also are calling for “significantly above-average” Atlantic basin hurricane activity in 2005.

“All of the information we have collected and analyzed through March indicates that the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season will be an active one,” said Gray, who is in his 22nd year of forecasting Atlantic basin hurricane activity.

Gray and his team predict 13 named storms between June 1 and Nov. 30, of which they expect seven to develop into hurricanes and three to become major hurricanes, with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater. Averages are 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes per year, they say.

The Colorado forecast specifically mentions “a considerably higher than average probability” of at least one major hurricane making landfall in the United States. That probability is 53%, they said. For the Gulf Coast, from the Florida Panhandle west to Brownsville, the probability is 41%.

Klotzbach believes that the United States “has entered a new era of enhanced major hurricane activity,” which the team predicts will “span the next two or three decades.”

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