NEW YORK Oct 4, 2006 (Dow Jones Newswires)
Blaming faster-than-expected El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean, forecasters at Colorado State University on Tuesday repeated their call for below-average storm activity during the rest of the Atlantic hurricane season.
"Typically, El Nino conditions put an early end to hurricane formation in the Atlantic basin," said William Gray, a hurricane forecaster with the closely watched forecasting team at Colorado State. "This year, El Nino has developed faster than almost anyone predicted."
El Nino is a weather phenomenon involving unusually warm surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that can have profound consequences for climate, including warm and very wet summers in South America and warmer-than-normal winters in parts of North America.
Gray, in a telephone interview, described the current El Nino as "weak to moderate" compared with 1997-98 phenomenon, which was the strongest on record and helped sink oil prices.
That El Nino, which slashed heating fuel demand in the Northern Hemisphere, occurred just as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries announced an increase in oil production quotas that proved ill-timed as it corresponded with the start of the Asian economic crisis. Crude oil prices plunged to near $11 a barrel and didn't recover for two years.
A top forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Vernon Kousky, said last month, "There is a reasonably good chance that this El Nino will strengthen to a moderate event. For moderate and strong El Nino events, the Northeast (U.S.) has a greater chance of experiencing warmer-than-average temperatures."
The Colorado forecasters said in their report Tuesday that "Atlantic basin tropical cyclone activity for the 2006 season will be considerably less than previously predicted largely because of the unexpected El Nino conditions that developed late this summer, as well as the development of mid-level dryness in the tropical Atlantic - with large amounts of African dust - that greatly reduced August activity."
As a result, the forecasters downgraded their previous forecast, now projecting two more named storms, one more hurricane and no more intense or major hurricanes for the remainder of the season, which runs through November. For October, the forecasters predict two named storms and one hurricane, not three hurricanes as previously forecast, and no intense hurricanes. In all, 11 named storms are forecast for the season, down from 13 in the last report, of which six are expected to become hurricanes.
The probability of storms making landfall in the U.S. during October is lower than normal, forecasters said.
So far, the Atlantic season has seen nine named storms, five hurricanes and two major storms. The long term average for the season is 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes.
"We have experienced average hurricane activity through September," said Philip Klotzbach, lead author of the forecast. "August was inactive, but September had above-average activity. We expect October to have below-average activity largely due to developing El Nino conditions in the central and eastern Pacific. November activity in El Nino years is very rare."
The 2006 season has been unexpectedly quiet, with no hurricanes striking the U.S. coastline. Ahead of the season, the Colorado forecasters called for a more active-than-normal season but below the record-setting 2005 season which brought in the crippling Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Gray, who strongly rejects any link between global warming and the stronger the normal hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005, said the U.S. remains within a long-term cyclical range of intense hurricane activity.
"It's just the way nature works," he said. "We've been in this cycle since 1995 and we probably have 15 to 20 years to go, but not every year is going to be" more active than normal.
He said the current El Nino may run its course by next summer and next year's hurricane season could again be intense.
Copyright (c) 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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