NOAA Cuts Forecast to 7-9 Hurricanes from 7-10

NEW YORK, (Dow Jones Newswires), Aug 09, 2007 (Dow Jones Commodities News)

Government forecasters Thursday said the current Atlantic hurricane season will be more active than the long-term average, but trimmed expectations for the number of storms expected.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, though, that activity so far in the season has "increased the confidence of an above-normal season."

NOAA now sees an 85% of an above-normal season, up from a 75% in its May 22 preseason outlook.

NOAA now sees expects 13-16 tropical storms to develop, 7 to 9 of which will become hurricanes and, of those, 3 to 5 will be intense hurricanes, with sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or more.

In its preseason forecast, NOAA projected 13-17 tropical storms, 7-10 hurricanes and 3-5 intense hurricanes in the season, which runs from Jun. 1 to Nov. 30.

The 50-year average is 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 major hurricanes.

NOAA said it slightly narrowed its forecasting range, while maintaining its above-average expectations, from its May forecast "due to development of La Nina-like conditions exerting influence." La Nina is the name given to the unusual cooling of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which has global implications.

"Most of the atmospheric and oceanic conditions have developed as expected, and are consistent with those predicted in May," said Gerry Bell, NOAA's lead seasonal hurricane forecaster. "The biggest wild card in the May outlook was whether or not La Nina would form, and if so, how strong it would be."

Bell said latest forecasts indicate "a slightly greater than 50% probability that La Nina will form during the peak of the hurricane season. But more importantly, we are already observing wind patterns similar to those created by La Nina across the tropical Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea that encourage tropical cyclone development.

"The conditions are ripe for an above-normal season," he said.

NOAA said its outlooks don't specify where and when tropical storms and hurricanes could strike. But, during above-normal seasons, many of the storms form over the tropical Atlantic Ocean and generally track westward, toward the U.S. and the Caribbean Sea, "thereby posing an increased threat to these regions."

Historically, similar conditions have typically produced 2-4 hurricane strikes in the continental U.S. and 2-3 in the Caribbean region, NOAA said.

Bell said the fact that a hurricane hasn't yet developed "has no relevance whatsoever" on forecasts for above-normal season this year.

So far, three named storms have occurred (Andrea, Barry and Chantal), which is slightly above average. On average, one or two storms develop in June and July, NOAA said.

Bell, in a conference call with reporters after the release of the forecast, acknowledged that NOAA "over-forecasted" last August, in expecting above-normal activity in what proved to be a relatively mild season.

"We failed to see a rapidly developing El Nino," he said, referring to the unusual cooling of the waters of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which can help suppress Atlantic hurricane activity, just as La Nina's development can promote a busy hurricane season.

Last week, widely watched forecasters at Colorado State University said the current season will show above normal activity, but with two fewer storm and one less hurricane than predicted earlier.

In an update to a preseason forecast, Colorado State's team trimmed their expectations to 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 intense hurricanes from an earlier forecast of 17 named storms, 9 hurricanes and 5 intense hurricanes with sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or more.

Colorado State forecasters also slightly lowered the assessment of the likelihood of a major hurricane making landfall somewhere in the U.S., to 68% from the early 74%. The revised forecast is still above the long-term probability of 52%.

For August, they predicted August three named storms, two hurricanes and one intense hurricane in the Atlantic basin. For September, five named storms are predicted, including four hurricanes and two intense hurricanes. For October and November, five named storms, two hurricanes and one intense hurricane are expected.

In the Gulf Coast region, stretching from the Florida Panhandle to Brownsville, Texas - housing many of the nation's oil refineries - the probability of an intense hurricane making landfall is 44%, compared with 30% long term, but down from 49% in the earlier forecast.

Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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