April 6, 2011

9 Atlantic hurricanes forecast in busier-than-average season

The Atlantic basin is facing a busier-than-average hurricane season, in part because of unusually warm water in the ocean, according to a seasonal hurricane forecast released Wednesday morning.

Colorado State University's forecast team, which has been issuing seasonal hurricane predictions since 1984, calls for 16 named tropical storms this year in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The team says nine will become hurricanes, with sustained winds reaching 74 mph. Five are expected to be major hurricanes — Categories 3, 4 or 5 — with maximum wind speeds of 111 mph or greater.

The average Atlantic hurricane season, going back to 1950, has 10 named storms — six of them hurricanes, and two of those major.

The forecasters, Phil Klotzbach and William Gray, say there's a 72% chance that at least one major hurricane will make landfall on the U.S. coast in 2011 (the long-term average probability is 52%).

"We expect that anomalously warm tropical Atlantic sea-surface temperatures, combined with neutral tropical Pacific sea-surface temperatures, will contribute to an active season," Klotzbach says.

Insurance companies, emergency managers and the news media use the forecasts from Colorado State to prepare Americans for the season's likely hurricane threat. The team's annual predictions are intended to provide a best estimate of activity to be experienced during the upcoming season, not an exact measure, according to Colorado State.
"We remain — since 1995 — in a favorable multi-decadal period for enhanced Atlantic basin hurricane activity, which is expected to continue for the next 10-15 years or so," Gray says.

"Except for the very destructive hurricane seasons of 2004-05, United States coastal residents have experienced no other major landfalling hurricanes since 1999. This recent nine of 11-year period without any major landfall events should not be expected to continue."

Colorado State forecasters tend to be rather conservative on their seasonal forecasts: Since 2000, the team has under-forecast the number of named tropical storms and hurricanes five times, over-forecast three times, and been almost right — within two storms — three times, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

In 2010, the team predicted 15 named storms and eight hurricanes. Nineteen named storms actually formed, including 12 hurricanes.

Also last week, the private forecasting firm AccuWeather predicted 15 tropical storms would form this year, of which eight will be hurricanes.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will issue its 2011 hurricane forecast in May.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The first named storm in the Atlantic will be called Arlene, followed by Bret and Cindy.

By Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

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