By LEE BOWMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
May 16, 2005
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's outlook, issued Monday, "is for 12 to 15 tropical storms, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes, of which three to five could become major hurricanes (with winds in excess of 111 mph)," said retired Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.
"Forecaster confidence that this will be an active hurricane season is very high," Lautenbacher said.
The annual outlook closely follows an April prediction by the respected Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University. It called for 13 named storms, seven becoming hurricanes and three becoming major storms.
The Atlantic has seen above-average hurricane activity almost every season since 1995, when a change in deep ocean currents began bringing warmer surface temperatures to the basin.
William Gray, head of the Colorado State team, told emergency planners this spring that the evidence suggests the currents "may be in this phase for the next 15 to 20 years."
Last year saw 15 named storms, with nine hurricanes and six major hurricanes. In August alone, there were eight tropical storms, breaking the previous monthly record of seven set in 1933 and 1995.
Nine of the storms - three tropical storms and six hurricanes - struck the U.S. mainland during the season. Four hurricanes and a tropical storm hit Florida.
Historically, even an above-normal season brings just two or three land-falling hurricanes to the U.S. coast. The 2004 season was made worse because a strong bubble of high pressure over the western Atlantic steered the storms toward the mainland rather than out to sea.
As they kicked off National Hurricane Preparedness Week during a news conference at Bay St. Louis, Miss., on Monday, government forecasters stressed that the impact of the storms does not stop near the coastline.
Much of the billions of dollars in property damage and most of the 59 U.S. fatalities directly attributed to the hurricanes last year did not come near beaches but inland. That was because of floods and record numbers of tornadoes generated by the tropical systems often hundreds of miles from shore.
The government outlook doesn't attempt to assess risk to any particular stretch of coastline, but Gray's team anticipates the probability that a hurricane will make landfall somewhere on the mainland this season at 73 percent, compared to the odds of 52 percent in an average year.
"Last year's hurricane season provided a reminder that planning and preparation for a hurricane do make a difference," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center. "Residents in hurricane-vulnerable areas who had a plan, and took individual responsibility for acting on those plans, faired far better than those who did not."
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, but most of the activity takes place Aug. 15 through October. The government will issue an update of the long-term outlook in early August.
Forecasters on Monday also issued an outlook for tropical-storm activity in the Pacific, where the season runs from May 15 through Nov. 30. In the eastern Pacific, a below-normal season is expected, with 11 to 15 tropical storms forming, with six to eight becoming hurricanes and two to four reaching major intensity. In the central Pacific, two or three tropical cyclones are projected.
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