NOAA: 75% Chance Hurricane Season 'Above Normal'

NEW YORK, May 22, 2007 (Dow Jones Newswires)

There is a 75% chance that the June 1 - Nov. 30 Atlantic hurricane season will be above normal, with 13-17 named storms, 7 to 10 hurricanes and 3 to 5 major hurricanes expected, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday.

NOAA Administrator Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. said the Atlantic region is in the midst of a long-term period of intense hurricane activity, with increased landfall probabilities.

Despite the forecast for an active season, he noted that it is the intensity, not the number of storms that matter.

"It only takes one to make a bad year," he said.

In the 50 years between 1950 and 2000, the Atlantic hurricane season has featured an average of 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes, with sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or more.

The 2005 season - featuring Katrina and Rita - was the most active, ever with a record 28 storms and 15 hurricanes, including seven major hurricanes, of which a record four hit the U.S.

Last May, NOAA predicted an above-normal 2006 season, with 13-16 tropical storms, 8 to 10 hurricanes and 4 to 6 major hurricanes. In August, the forecast was only modestly scaled back, with 3 to 4 major hurricanes still projected.

In the end, the season turned out to be below average, with 10 named storms, 5 hurricanes and only 2 major hurricanes.

Significantly, for the first time since 2001, no hurricanes made landfall in the continental U.S. in 2006.

The weaker-than-expected 2006 season was blamed on the presence of El Nino, the name given to the phenomenon that causes an unusual warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean and has global implications, and the presence of large volumes of West African dust in the atmosphere, which dried up the moisture necessary for hurricanes to occur.

Gerry Bell, NOAA hurricane expert said it isn't possible to say how many storms may make landfall or where they could hit. But in active seasons historically, 2 to 4 hurricanes have made landfalls in the U.S.

Bell said the U.S. is in the midst of a long-term period of active hurricane activity and the relatively mild season a year ago isn't an indicator that hurricane threats are lessening.

He said the long-term period of active hurricanes has been ongoing for 12 years and its unclear how long it may last. Past active cycles have run from 25-40 years, he said.

Most hurricane activity is likely to be centered in the typical active months of August through October, he said.

The expected appearance of the La Nina phenomenon in coming months adds to expectations of an active season, Bell said. La Nina conditions bring the "opposite" conditions of a year-ago when El Nino sapped strength from potential storms, he said.

La Nina refers to the unusual cooling of equatorial Pacific Ocean, which has global impacts. Even if La Nina doesn't develop strongly in the next one to three months, Bell said, there are still other strong indicators of an active hurricane season.

In April, forecasters from Colorado State University projected that there is a one-in-four chance that at least one major hurricane could hit the U.S. Gulf region that is home to 27% of the nation's refineries.

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