NOAA scientists predict active hurricane season

By Curt Chapman
Staff Writer
Posted 5/22/07

The absence of our friend El Niño is expected to make the 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season (June 1-Nov. 30) much busier than the same period last year.

During a Tuesday morning press conference held at the Ronald Reagan Washington National …

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NOAA scientists predict active hurricane season


The absence of our friend El Niño is expected to make the 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season (June 1-Nov. 30) much busier than the same period last year.

During a Tuesday morning press conference held at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, NOAA Climate Prediction Center experts said there is a 75 percent chance the upcoming season will be above normal this year, a clear indication that the active hurricane era, which began in 1995, remains strong.

“For the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, NOAA scientists predict 13 to 17 named storms, with seven to 10 becoming hurricanes, of which three to five could become major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

A typical Atlantic hurricane season sees an average of 11 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes, and two becoming major hurricanes.

NOAA recommends that those of us in hurricane-prone regions begin preparing now, just in case.

Lautenbacher noted 53 percent of the U.S. population now lives within 50 miles of the coast, a trend he sees continuing. He said, “Coastal areas are becoming more and more popular for people to move, and it just takes one hurricane to make it a bad year. In that case, it doesn’t matter if it’s one or 21.”

Lautenbacher added, “Our ability to do these forecasts is due to hours and hours of work by our scientists and academia, both public and private. We had $300 million dedicated to hurricane operations and research last year, and have requested an additional $10 million this year.” He noted a savings of thousands of lives and billions in property is the result of the work NOAA does.

Gerry Bell, lead seasonal Atlantic hurricane forecaster with the Climate Prediction Center, said active hurricane seasons have historically lasted 25 to 40 years. He went on to point out, “As with other active seasons, it’s not about the number (of storms), it’s where these storms form.”

Weather systems that form in the lower tropics tend to track through the Caribbean and move toward the U.S. mainland, according to Bell. Climate patterns responsible for the expected above normal 2007 hurricane activity include warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and the El Niño/La Niña cycle.

Last year, hurricane predictions were way off because an unexpected El Niño suppressed the conditions Atlantic storms need to form and strengthen. When storms did develop, steering currents kept most of them over the open water and away from land.

“We over predicted the 2006 hurricane season,” Bell said. “That’s because a rapidly developing El Niño shut the season down. We’re not under those conditions now.”

There is instead a possibility a LaNiña could form in the next one to three months, according to Climate Prediction Center forecasts, but it’s not yet known how strong it might be. LaNiña tends to further enhance conditions that are favorable for tropical storm development.

Bell stressed that preseason storms, such as Subtropical Storm Andrea in early May, are not an indicator of the hurricane season ahead. “With or without Andrea, NOAA’s forecast is for an above normal season.”

That’s a point not lost on Bill Proenza, the new National Hurricane Center director. He said, “With expectations for an active season, it is critically important that people who live in East and Gulf coastal areas as well as the Caribbean be prepared. Now is the time to update your hurricane plan, not when the storm is bearing down on you. The National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service offices around the country are all ready. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and your local governments are all ready. We are not only committed to keeping people informed, we are committed to keeping them prepared.”

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Cherthoff said, “Whatever the season may bring, we prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” He added, “All of us have worked very hard with state and local governments and first responders to make sure everyone is prepared for the upcoming hurricane season.”

Cherthoff said FEMA has tools at its disposal it didn’t have when Hurricane Katrina devastated the northern Gulf Coast in August 2005, such as new communication systems that will enable the agency to respond more quickly, along with real-time video.

He said there is also an effort under way to enroll those most medically vulnerable in the event of a hurricane, and the agency is working to prevent fraud and abuse of the system in the aftermath of a storm.

Cherthoff was adamant in saying although FEMA will respond as fast as possible, response teams cannot be on site until hurricane conditions have subsided.

“It’s up to individuals and businesses to prepare themselves and listen to local authorities to know when to get out. A storm is no time to be a hero,” Cherthoff said. “Last year was an unexpectedly easy season. There’s no indication this will be nothing if not tough.”

Peak activity for the Atlantic hurricane season typically occurs August through October. The NOAA Climate Prediction Center will issue an updated seasonal forecast in August, just prior to the historical peak of the season.