By LEE BOWMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
August 03, 2005
"The tropics are only going to get busier as we enter the peak of the season. We've never before been this confident with any seasonal outlook," said retired Air Force Gen. David L. Johnson, director of the National Weather Service.
In May, forecasters called for as many as 15 tropical storms and five major hurricanes. But seven tropical storms - including two that became major hurricanes - already have formed this season. Johnson said that, from all indications, the conditions that caused so many early storms will persist through the season.
Traditionally, August through October is the most active part of the season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. If the weather service's new predictions hold true, as many as 21 named storms - more than twice the average number - will form in all this season.
The new outlook, issued by the Center for Environmental Prediction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, doesn't predict where or when any of the additional storms might make landfall. But based on historical statistics, the U.S. coastline can expect to be hit by at least two or three more hurricanes this year - on top of the landfalls made by Hurricane Dennis and Tropical Storms Arlene and Cindy.
Given the increased development of the coastline and greater number of storms, "we can expect to see more hurricane damage and more people affected," said Gerry Bell, the meteorologist in charge of the seasonal forecast.
Bell said that tropical conditions are lined up favorably for hurricanes to form and strengthen - seawater between Africa and the Caribbean 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, a jet stream from Africa that energizes low-pressure systems coming off the continent and reduced wind-shear patterns that tend to break up tropical storms.
Although forecasts have steadily improved in the ability to tell people where - within a couple of hundred miles - a hurricane will make landfall three days out, specialists at the National Hurricane Center still caution that the storms are so big and their effects so widespread that anyone who might be brushed by a system needs to be prepared.
"We remain deeply concerned about the lack of public preparedness as we enter the peak of the season," said hurricane center Director Max Mayfield. He cited a private survey of East Coast residents, done earlier this year, showing that nearly half of respondents lacked a hurricane-response plan.
Bell said 20 hurricanes or tropical storms have hit the mainland since 1992, with above-normal seasons in eight of the last 10 years. "We've been saying we're in this new active period that we know can last 25 years or more since 1998," Bell said.
"Unfortunately, before that, we were in an inactive period during the '70s, '80s and early '90s that saw an average of one storm a season strike the U.S., and for many of us, that's been our life experience with hurricanes."
Mayfield pointed out that those with recent hurricane experience seem to have gotten better prepared. "There was another poll done just in Florida in June that found only 18 to 20 percent of the people responding didn't have a plan, so having their state hit by four hurricanes last year motivated people to get prepared," he said.
An average Atlantic hurricane season produces 10 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes and two of those developing into major hurricanes with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 miles an hour (Category 3).
The most active season, based on reliable records, was 1933. There were 21 storms, followed by 19 storms in 1995. The most hurricanes in a season were 12, in 1969, and the most major hurricanes, eight, formed in 1950.
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