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March 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm #2728
Forecasters see ‘extreme season’ for hurricanes coming
Steve Lyttle / McClatchy Newspapers, March 27, 2010 11:17 pm
CHARLOTTE, N.C. _ Forecasters say weather patterns are conspiring to produce a busy hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean, with one meteorologist predicting more than a half-dozen storms coming ashore in 2010.
This follows a quiet 2009 season, in which the U.S. mainland was not touched by any of the giant tropical storms.
“This year has the chance to be an extreme season,” says Joe Bastardi of Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather, who correctly predicted 2009’s quiet season and the record-setting snowfall this winter along the East Coast. “It is certainly much more like 2008 than 2009, as far as the overall threat to the United States’ East and Gulf coasts.”
Don’t cancel your August or September beach vacations quite yet.
Not all the forecasts are in. For example, the National Hurricane Center’s seasonal prediction won’t come until late May. And some forecasters plan to fine-tune their outlooks later this spring, when conditions become a bit clearer.
Besides, long-range hurricane forecasts have been unreliable in the past.
But meteorologists say they are getting better at predicting months ahead of time, as they learn more about the inter-relationships of various trends responsible for storm formation.
Perhaps no forecast is more closely watched than that from the Colorado State University team of Philip Klotzbach and William Gray. In December, they predicted 11 to 16 named storms this season, with three to five becoming major hurricanes.
Their next update is due in about a week.
AccuWeather’s Bastardi is calling for 15 named storms, with two or three major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger on the Saffir-Simpson scale of 1 to 5) making landfall on the U.S. coast.
Both those predictions are considerably above the nine named storms in 2009.
That compares with 15 named storms in 2008, when five systems made landfall on the Gulf Coast.
The 2008 hurricane season had a major impact on oil refinery operations in Louisiana and Texas, triggering a gasoline shortage in Charlotte, N.C., and other parts of the Southeast in late September of that year.
The reasons most commonly cited for the 2010 forecast:
A weakening of El Nino, the weather pattern that creates warmer-than-normal sea-surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean. In El Nino years, such as 2009, a persistent west-to-east wind blows across the southern United States. That wind tends to disrupt the formation of tropical systems in the Atlantic and Caribbean.
Water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic that are warmer than last summer. Tropical systems get their power from warm water.
Weaker winds off the west coast of Africa. That, forecasters say, will lessen the chances of dust from the Sahara Desert blowing into the Atlantic and disrupting the formation of tropical storms and hurricanes. Such a condition was present last year.
Steve Pfaff, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s office in Wilmington, N.C., addressed the hurricane outlook last week, when talking to South Carolina emergency management directors at Litchfield Beach, S.C.
“I would say we’re going to have a much more active hurricane season,” Pfaff said.
Bastardi says he has found a parallel in this year’s conditions with those of 1964, 1995 and 1998. Each of those years produced above-average numbers of hurricanes affecting the U.S. coast.
In 1998, Hurricane Bonnie made landfall near Wilmington as a weak Category 3 storm, causing $1 billion in damage.
The 1995 season included Tropical Storm Jerry, which caused severe flooding in the Charlotte area that left three people dead and millions of dollars in damage. That season also included Hurricane Opal, which made landfall on the Florida panhandle and brought damaging winds as far north as the Charlotte area.
The hurricane season officially begins June 1 and continues through the end of November, with activity peaking around the middle of September.
The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News contributed to this report.
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